Kevin O’Connell is likely to run the Minnesota Vikings offense in the same capacity as Sean McVay for the Los Angeles Rams. What gets lost in the shuffle, though, is that the Vikings actually have an offensive coordinator — Wes Phillips.
Phillips was O’Connell’s copilot in Los Angeles and, at age 43, was granted an offensive coordinator gig for the first time in Minnesota. He’ll be the O’Connell to Los Angeles’ McVay from 2021.
And last week, training camp resumed with news of an injury to tight end Irv Smith, which sent eyeballs to the back of Vikings fans’ skulls as Smith just missed a full calendar year due to a torn meniscus. “Here we go again” was the sentiment from Vikings enthusiasts, even though Smith’s injury is minor. The 24-year-old — his birthday is Tuesday — is expected to be ready for Week 1 versus the Packers.
Regardless of Smith’s injury prognosis, the Vikings TE room is in good hands. Why? Wes Phillips.
Phillips is uniquely equipped to determine the efficacy of the Vikings tight end bunch — with or without Smith on the field. Of course, an upright and healthy Smith against the Packers in 33 days is preferred and probably on the docket unless a Danielle-Hunter-from-2020 injury scenario arises. But even if Smith’s absence is prolonged, Phillips can scout the pros and cons of the Vikings TE room.
For the last nine seasons, Phillips has been a tight ends coach. Plain and simple. This is gig — tight ends. If he believes in the talent of the current group, that’s the rubberstamp needed for Vikings fans to taper panic. This is the Vikings TE batch as of August 8th:
- TE1: Irv Smith Jr.
- TE2: Johnny Mundt
- TE3: Ben Ellefson
- TE4: Zach Davidson
- TE5: Nick Muse
- TE6: Shaun Beyer
If that sixsome worries you, it shouldn’t — because it’s not causing Phillips any external panic. Phillips told reporters last week, “We’ve got a big group of guys in there that are kind of vying for roles, and it will be good for them to get some more reps and see kind of how that plays out.”
This is Phillips’ resume since 2013:
- 2013 = Dallas Cowboys (TE Coach)
- 2014-2018 = Washington Commanders (TE Coach)
- 2019-2020 = Los Angeles Rams (TE Coach)
- 2021 = Los Angeles Rams (TE Coach & Passing Game Coordinator)
Phillips isn’t going to let the Vikings tight end assortment sink because of a small thumb injury to the starter. And if the five men beneath Smith on the depth chart are unsavory — Phillips certainly hasn’t implied that yet — he will tell somebody, probably Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
For now, the Vikings are beset by one notable injury — the thumb malady to Smith. The team’s offensive coordinator is a tight ends coach and specialist by trade. He will navigate the injury — and any TE injuries hereafter — with more experience than most.
If Phillips recommends the free-agent exploration of an Eric Ebron or Jimmy Graham type — great. Yet, with a few days to go before the preseason begins, he’s not panicking about his TE roster.
And neither should you.
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).