The Minnesota Vikings begin mandatory minicamp next week. Here are 10 things we learned about the team during the three weeks of organized team activities…
Dalvin Cook is getting healthy
As he recovers from an ACL tear, the Vikings had hoped Cook would be ready to return to practice by training camp, but he was participating in the final week of OTAs. The 2017 second-round pick got off to a hot start to his career, only to have it derailed after four weeks. Now Cook will be adapting to a new offense while working himself back to 100 percent health.
“[John DeFilippo’s] offense he wants to get the best guys the ball in their hand every time,” Cook said. “He’s going to get the matchups he wants and that’s what we all want. We want to get the matchups and we want to make plays for our team to help us win football games.”
It will be worth watching how many reps he gets during minicamp. We won’t have a feel for whether his explosiveness has returned until the pads come on at training camp.
The offensive line is taking shape
During the first week of OTAs, Mike Remmers played tackle and a combination of Tom Compton and Danny Isidora filled in the guard position. Over the final two weeks, Remmers played guard and Rashod Hill started at right tackle with the first team. We have a long way to go before Week 1, but the favorite for starting offensive line would be: Riley Reiff – Nick Easton – Pat Elflein – Mike Remmers – Rashod Hill.
Zimmer said he likes the way Remmers handles himself at guard.
“Mike’s very instinctive player in there,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “He sees a lot of things. He’s got good quickness, got good power. He’s been able to get the three-technique reach a couple times, been able to sit down on some guys rushing. I think he’s been good. We’re still trying to figure it out with [Pat] Elflein hurt. Trying to figure out where we’re going to go with the rest. It’s good to have a guy that can move around.”
Against the Saints and Eagles, Zimmer chose to play Remmers at guard because he felt that was the best combination. Where rookie Brian O’Neill stands in training camp could have some impact on the final decision, but Hill’s starting experience from last season gives him a significant leg up.
It will take time for Kirk Cousins to be fully comfortable as a leader
While Cousins has an entire offseason to adapt, learning a completely new offense with all new teammates can’t be the easiest thing on earth. The Vikings’ new quarterback has spent the offseason working on chemistry with his teammates and new coaches.
“I think anytime you are new to an organization, you feel your way around a little bit,” Zimmer said. “He’s doing that some but he is leading. He is taking charge. He has a lot on his plate right now. We have so many different things. Everything is new to him, whereas a lot of the guys it’s not new. He’s doing a good job in that role.”
The last time DeFilippo was an offensive coordinator, his quarterback situation was very messy in Cleveland. The Vikings’ new OC seems pretty thrilled to have a committed QB.
“When you coach a guy like Kirk Cousins, a guy that wants to come in with the ground running, it makes it a lot easier as a coach,” DeFilippo said. “He has been in the building, studying at home. Using his iPad, maximizing all of his time here. Maximizing every second that is allowed in the CBA. We are fortunate to have a guy that is that competitive, that team-oriented and is ready to go every day.”
Cousins noted that he’s still trying to fully understand everyone’s skills and how they run certain routes. He got together with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen in Atlanta for a side workout earlier this offseason.
Mike Hughes will get a shot to win the nickel corner job
Mackensie Alexander took the majority of the first-team reps at nickel corner during the OTA sessions open to the media, but the Vikings’ first-round pick has been working in at nickel with the second team. It’s too early to draw conclusions on his play at that spot. We won’t know until training camp and preseason whether he is better fit for the spot than Alexander. We can, however, tell that he’s going to get a shot to steal the starting job.
“He has excellent acceleration and quickness,” Zimmer said. “He wants to learn all the time….the thing I notice the most is probably his lateral quickness.”
If Hughes does not win the gig, he could still provide valuable depth.
John DeFilippo is a big Stefon Diggs fan
Not only did DeFilippo have rocky quarterback play in 2015 with Cleveland, he didn’t have a whole lot of offensive weapons. Now he does in the form of two top-notch receivers with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. DeFilippo raved about Diggs’ abilities.
“It shocked me the way he can run,” DeFilippo said. “The tape doesn’t do that justice. His ball skills are fantastic. The way he tracks the football in the air. You guys saw him make that deep ball catch down here. His ball skills are really, really good.”
Over his three years, Diggs has held down different roles each season and succeeded. In 2016, he was largely a slot receiver, while last year he played much more on the outside.
“I play everything, so it’s not a big learning curve for me as far as learning the new concepts and the things they like to do,” Diggs said. “Each coach is different, and I try to learn it to a T. Not just the vanilla, but the nuances on how they want things done. I’ll play whatever you need me to play, so I’m not going to have too many problems with it.”
Contract statuses will be a significant story heading into camp
Anthony Barr missed Week 1 of OTAs while he sorted out paperwork for an insurance policy to protect him against an injury while he works with the team toward an extension. Barr said he wants to get a long-term deal done with the team, but thus far they haven’t broken through with a deal. The Vikings have historically completed key contracts around the beginning of training camp. We will be keeping a close eye on any developments for Barr, Stefon Diggs and/or Danielle Hunter as the offseason unfolds. Right now there is plenty of time for all three to work out details. If any or all of them get into the full swing of camp without contracts, then it highly increases the chance that they do not stay in Minnesota.
The kicking competition might not go down to the wire
In the sessions open to the media, rookie Daniel Carlson out-kicked Kai Forbath. Zimmer was quick to point out that grading a kicker off OTA boots vs. real games is difficult, but the fact that the Vikings spent an asset on Carlson gives us an idea that they would prefer him to win the job.
“I don’t want to rush the process,”special teams coach Mike Priefer said. “I think we need to do what is best for our football team, whether that is at the end of spring or end of training camp. I don’t make that final decision. At the end of the day, we will make the right one and hopefully the kicker that we keep will help us win a lot of games this year.”
Laquon Treadwell could still have a role in the offense
Yes, it is far too early to declare Treadwell is set to take a big step forward. But he might have some type of role if he shows marginal improvement.
“He is continuing to get better,” Zimmer said. “I think he stopped being so hard on himself and just letting it flow now. I think that is part of it.”
Treadwell must at least beat out the gaggle of undrafted or previous practice squad players for the No. 4 receiving role. This year could ultimately decide whether he remains in the league.
The receiver competition will be wide open
The very, very early player to watch could be CFL standout Brandon Zylstra, who made several good catches during the Week 3 season. There will be a fascinating battle going on throughout the offseason with veteran Tavarres King in the mix along with last year’s seventh-round pick Stacy Coley, Korey Robertson, who the Vikings spent significant dollars to sign as an undrafted free agent.
Cayleb Jones might have had a leg up before he was suspended four games by the NFL. Chad Beebe, Jeff Badet and Jake Wieneke are the long shots.
There are some dinged-up players to keep an eye on
Everson Griffen and Andrew Sendejo were in attendance, but did not participate in OTA practices. We have not received updates on whether they will be practicing in mandatory minicamps. Center Pat Elflein is also recovering from offseason surgery. He should be ready by the start of training camp.