The Minnesota Vikings will have newness in 2022 — so new that some of the players aren’t totally sure how the finished product will look.
The newness is derived from the change in leadership. The Vikings fired general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer in January after the product had become stale, finishing 15-18 (.454) in the last two seasons. Spielman and Zimmer were replaced by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (GM) and Kevin O’Connell (HC), two men fundamentally different from their predecessors, chiefly from a philosophical and analytical perspective.
Aside from a dozen or so incoming free agents and 10 new rookies from the spring, Minnesota’s roster is quite similar to the 2021 edition. In that vein, the Vikings are “running it back” with a fresh general manager and coaching staff.
All team members reported to Eagan on Tuesday for the start of training camp, featuring some microphone time with Vikings reporters. Dalvin Cook, the team’s RB1, was asked about Kevin O’Connell’s new offense, and he replied, “Obviously, it’s going to be a new system. [..] How are they going to use me? I don’t know. We all don’t know.”
Cook was drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2017 NFL Draft to effectively replace Adrian Peterson, who bolted for the New Orleans Saints two days before the draft. And outside of some early injury turmoil, Cook has succeeded Peterson with esteem, averaging a mammoth 112.8 yards from scrimmage per game in his career.
Now, though, he may experience a new job assignment — one to which he evidently isn’t privy.
In May, reports indicated the Vikings might utilize Cook as a wide receiver more often, which made global headlines for fantasy football purposes. Cook in a “Le’Veon Bell from 2017 role” would be tantalizing for Minnesota and fantasy football managers. When those theories emerged, Cook appeared to feed the beast, tweeting this as pseudo-confirmation of the strategy:
Otherwise, Cook randomly tweeted a catch he made in a regular season game without context. It likely wasn’t a coincidence.
Other mysteries? The Vikings flat-out advertised a “run-first” offense in eight years of Zimmer at the helm. That mentality is dead. Wideout Justin Jefferson even commented in June on the shift to NFL Network, “Our offensive style, it’s not a run-first offense anymore. Just us being able to put different people in different positions and distribute the ball. We’re just excited to start it up, really. We want to see how this season really turns out for us.”
Minnesota will also implement more 3-WR and 4-WR packages under O’Connell like his former employer, the Los Angeles Rams, used during O’Connell’s time with Sean McVay. During several stretches of the Zimmer era, it felt like pulling teeth for the team to establish a true-blue WR3. K.J. Osborn solidified the job in 2021, but before that, a hodgepodge of Laquon Treadwell, Bisi Johnson, and others did not blossom as “normal” WR3s. That should change on O’Connell’s watch — and extend to WR4.
Finally, the Vikings pass protection — once and for all — desperately needs repair. For four consecutive seasons, Minnesota’s pass protection has ranked 27th or worse per Pro Football Focus in pass protection. That’s why Adofo-Mensah welcomed new offensive linemen like Chris Reed, Jesse Davis, and Ed Ingram this offseason.
Until Week 1, however, when the Vikings host the Green Bay Packers, the changes on offense will remain mysterious — even for players through late July. And it’s probably a good thing that O’Connell and Co. aren’t broadcasting the playbook.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).