With a roster of 53 players, plus a full staff of coaches and front office personnel, it is essential to differentiate the true leaders of a team from those who only want the best for themselves. The varying reactions to the team’s 0-2 start to the season, followed by a big win at home against the Seattle Seahawks, showed the difference between the wannabes and the real deal. Some players rebounded from the losses with a positive attitude and a strong performance, while others are still missing the point of what it means to be a team.
Kirk Cousins has been committed to the Vikings through thick and thin. His off-the-field opinions may not be popular — for several seasons — and last season there was much debate whether his play was entirely his fault or was a result of the talent around him. Regardless, Cousins has given his best effort. This positive attitude is what is required of the captain of an NFL team. A lesser leader could have used an 0-2 press conference to blame others. Cousins showed faith in his teammates and gave them a masterful offensive performance.
Mike Zimmer couldn’t be a more different personality than Cousins. Yet, following suit, he continues to believe in his squad. While the outset of the Seattle game was a little shaky, the Vikings stormed back in the second half with several impressive defensive plays under his command. I’m sure his halftime speech was pleasant to listen to and was a well-rounded discussion of the game to that point (read: angry coach yells loud), but when the players follow his instructions they are set up for success.
Another leader who supports this team in more ways than he gets credit for is C.J. Ham. He can be seen laying down chop blocks or leading the charge on a downfield run multiple times during the game, but he also plays a vital role off the field. Every week, Ham can be heard on KFAN’s Power Trip Morning Show, where he explains the principles of being an NFL player. The Vikings made a great choice in making Ham one of their captains. He does exactly what is expected of him and remains down to earth in a league where egos can get out of control.
Conversely, a couple of players could use an attitude adjustment. In particular, Cameron Dantzler needs to start putting in some work both on the field and off it. Dantzler came off a fairly successful season in 2020, but his influence this year has been more related to injuries and complaints.
There will always be competition in the NFL, even if you are one of the best players. Dantzler’s attitude displays that he thinks he should be given a spot instead of having to earn it. I expect that Zimmer had a long chat with him about his role on the team and how he first needs to prove he has the attitude of a professional. Dantzler should look at players like Eric Kendricks and Michael Pierce, who have excellent production and a positive media presence.
Pay attention to players’ attitudes as the Vikings enter Week 4. Successful teams don’t often have players sulking or speaking negatively about those around them, especially not the team leaders. If the Vikings want to make a playoff run this year, they’ll need strong leadership not just in the coaching staff but on both sides of the ball.