These are the dwindling days of the offseason when life is pleasantly tinted through purple-and-gold-colored glasses. There’s a lot of positivity surrounding the Minnesota Vikings during the summer break, with a fresh approach and a new regime. That’s ostensibly how Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell have sold it to fans. They are indicating that they just need to pull a few levers and push some buttons to unlock a championship contender.
But Vikings fans have felt this way for several seasons now. Each year it seems like the team is only a few plays away from some glory – the playoffs, winning the NFC North, or even battling for a championship. And, each year, they fall short. Forgive fans if they are emotionally hedging against a late-season collapse or playoff blowout.
This season may not be like the others, even if the result is the same. With a change in leadership, the team can begin to build a new foundation instead of scrambling to hold together the one Mike Zimmer created.
The Vikings haven’t put several new pieces of this team into place yet. They have also peppered some unproven commodities throughout the roster. Therefore, they may initially be frustrating, and the Vikings may fail to meet expectations. However, if the fanbase can stay patient and look for small improvements, it can be easier to overcome disappointment at the moment and feel good about the future.
Several factors might contribute to an underwhelming 2022 for the Vikings. As with any team switching coordinators, it will take some time for the players to adjust to new schemes. O’Connell will bring in a Sean McVay-style playbook for Kirk Cousins to run. While Cousins has had experience switching schemes before, it is still a variable we can’t dismiss.
In addition to the change in the offensive scheme, O’Connell will be calling plays in Minnesota, a responsibility McVay held in Los Angeles. Play-calling is a skill that often challenges young coaches, and O’Connell needs practice. That was a major challenge for Klint Kubiak, who could not efficiently run his father Gary’s offense after he retired. Hopefully, O’Connell tackles the challenge more effectively than his predecessor.
The defensive scheme may be an even greater challenge. The Vikings will be using a 3-4 base defense for the first time since 1985 under legendary coach Bud Grant. It will be a dramatic change for the unit. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell brings 31 years of experience to the coaching staff, so hopefully, he has developed strategies for implementing new twists into a defense. Even then, players like Danielle Hunter must get used to playing in different spots.
The Vikings are relying on a lot of young talent. Offensive linemen Christian Darrisaw and Ed Ingram are coming into their second and first years, respectively. While Darrisaw has been getting hype in camp, he displayed a lot of inconsistency at left tackle in his debut season. Ingram looks like he’s won the right guard battle, but the LSU rookie still needs to prove himself in a game that counts. Cousins is susceptible to pressure, and defenses can bait him into throwing an ill-advised pick or taking a costly sack. The young duo must prove they can hold their own in the trenches.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s first two 2022 draft picks, Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth Jr., should be significant contributors on defense in Year 1. In all likelihood, they will either start or come off the bench often to spell the rest of the secondary. Booth Jr., in particular, was known as a risk-taker in college, which opponents might exploit in the NFL. If the duo can’t limit their mistakes, the Vikings’ DB group might struggle to hold opposing passers in check.
The Vikings may start the season with a few bad or disastrous games. Fans might be tempted to jump ship if they go 3-5 or 2-6. But this squad has the potential for a much stronger second half of the year as they gain experience and gel as a team. O’Connell will get a chance to hone his play-calling with each game, making adjustments and learning more every week. The O-line will get more cohesive. Cine and Booth Jr. will learn to recognize more concepts.
This could be the inception of a new core for a franchise that becomes a perennial contender. Vikings fans have waited 55 years for a Super Bowl. It might be prudent to wait just a little longer.