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Vikings Training Camp: Core Players Leading Smooth Coaching Transition

A host of players remaining from the Mike Zimmer era have been instrumental for new coach Kevin O’Connell. Plus, more notes from Minnesota’s camp.

We’re eight stops in, and my rental car—a pretty sweet Ford Escape, if you’re wondering—is about to get dropped off at the Minneapolis airport, after getting me here all the way from Upstate New York. After stops at the BillsPackers, Bears, Colts, Bengals, Steelers and Browns, here’s what I saw/heard at a sweltering Vikings practice today.

1) The overriding thing I took from talking with people here is that the new guys really, really like a lot of what the old guys left for them on the roster, and in particular core players like Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith. And it’s not just that those guys are good players, but they’ve proven to be real program guys early on for new coach Kevin O’Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Bottom line, this is no teardown, and the team-builders here believe they’ll have a really good locker room from the jump.

Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell talks with receiver Justin Jefferson at training camp.

2) The Vikings are pretty high on tackle Christian Darrisaw. How high? Well, while Darrisaw has a ways to go to get to his level, the staff here sees shades of Trent Williams in his build and movement skills. The feeling is he’s got a chance to make a significant leap this year, perhaps into the upper echelon at his position.

3) Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell is bringing the Vic Fangio defense with him to the Vikings—O’Connell brought him here in large part because of how hard the scheme has been on him as an offensive coach over the years, and because of his experience coaching with another Fangio disciple, Brandon Staley with the Rams in 2020. And one thing that the guys here think will help in getting results quickly? Having heady, veteran linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks as the nerve center of the unit. Both have been invaluable for Donatell early on.

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4) There’s a nice second wave of players developing here too, and slot receiver K.J. Osborn and safety Cam Bynum are two to watch in that regard. Osborn’s already been productive, and should have a nice role alongside Jefferson and Thielen. Meanwhile, Bynum had an outstanding spring, and will bring a lot of versatility to his position with experience having played corner.

5) Corner is probably the biggest question here. Patrick Peterson’s been a pleasant surprise in how quickly he’s adapted to playing off the ball more—remember, at his peak, he was almost exclusively a press corner—but who’ll play opposite him remains to be seen, with Cam Dantzler and Andrew Booth battling for that spot. Tight end is one other area to watch, since Irv Smith, while plenty valuable out wide, doesn’t quite fit the traditional in-line role in the Vikings offense.

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