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Zulgad’s Roundup: Hurry up offense: Vikings new coach trying to get new system installed

Kevin O'Connell, Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell directs his team in drills as quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) stands by at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Eagan, Minn., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Vikings players will wrap up their 10 practices that were part of Organized Team Activities this week and then conduct their mandatory minicamp beginning Tuesday before getting a break for the remainder of the offseason. The limitations on how much offseason work can be done — along with stricter rules on training camp practices and how many can be conducted in pads — has presented new coach Kevin O’Connell with the challenge of getting his players comfortable with a new offense before the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against Green Bay.

Watching the Vikings’ first-team offense on Wednesday, many players continue to try to adjust to a scheme that figures to be like going from a Studebaker to a Ferrari. This include star wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who will play the same role in the Vikings’ offense that Cooper Kupp does with the Rams. That means being familiar with the nuances of a complex system.

“They are doing a great job with it,” said O’Connell, who was the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Rams before being hired by the Vikings in February. “There’s always going to be teachable moments throughout the course of these practices. It’s not like we just go in the meeting room and say, ‘OK, today the only stuff we’re doing is this.’ I think it’s really important you challenge these guys to be able to stack days. Physically, it’s one thing preparing them for what will be ahead, (not just) competing in training camp but mentally as well.”

Kirk Cousins tried to downplay how much different O’Connell’s scheme will be compared to what he’s used to running, but the quarterback also said he was using flash cards to try to familiarize himself with the terminology and play calls. The challenge for O’Connell will be making sure the installation that has been done this spring hasn’t been forgotten when players arrive for training camp in late July.

“I just told them when I talked to the team, ‘Let’s not allow the things we’ve done, stacking these days, to need to be things we’ve got to cover again and talk about again,'” he said. “‘Let’s make it fundamental things we’re cleaning up now as we start to click up in the speed of things and the competition of things. Let’s not make it mental errors, let’s not make it things that we can control just by preparing. Coaches being on top of things and us doing a great job of communicating from the top down.'”

Cousins, who had O’Connell as his position coach during his final season in Washington in 2017, has played under a different coordinator in each of his first four seasons in Minnesota. But that doesn’t mean every offseason there has been a complete change to the scheme. For instance, when Kevin Stefanski left to become coach of the Cleveland Browns after the 2019 season, Gary Kubiak became the coordinator after having helped Stefanski. When Gary Kubiak retired after the 2020 season, his son, Klint, inherited the offense.

That meant many of the terms and ideas remained the same. That won’t be the case with O’Connell. The first-year NFL head coach said that Cousins and fellow quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond have done a good job in OTAs.

“In my opinion, it’s been what has been really exciting about our quarterbacks, especially Kirk,” O’Connell said, “they control a lot and they’re running the show. Whether it’s tempo, whether it’s the situational stuff that we’re doing. These guys are thriving, they’re doing a great job and continuing to build. … I like where we  are at.”

  • Veteran newcomers Jesse Davis and Chris Reed continue to both get work with the first-team offense at right guard. Garrett Bradbury remains the only center to work with the top unit.
  • The Vikings announced that they will have a two-day camp on Tuesday and Wednesday but won’t practice Thursday. That day will be used for team-building exercises, something that has become common around the league.
  • Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette is wearing a walking boot on his foot after suffering a lower leg injury in OTAs. He will not take part in the minicamp. Smith-Marsette, a fifth-round pick by the Vikings in 2021 out of Iowa, is expected compete for the fourth spot on the wide receiver depth chart. He had five catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns in eight games last season. K.J. Osborn, who emerged as the Vikings’ third wide receiver last season, has not taken part in the last two OTAs open to the media but is expected to participate in the minicamp.
  • Veteran lefthander Martin Perez, who went 10-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 32 games and 29 starts with the Twins in 2019, leads the major leagues with a 1.42 ERA in 10 starts with Texas. The 31-year-old spent his first seven seasons with the Rangers before going to the Twins and then spending two years in Boston. Perez has a 4-2 record and had a complete game shutout on May 20 in Houston.
  • Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson remains on the injured list because of right shoulder inflammation but reportedly could be activated on Sunday. That means Donaldson, who was traded by the Twins in spring training, could be ready to play in the Yankees’ three-game series next week at Target Field. Donaldson is slashing .238/.349/.415 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in 37 games this season. Shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, whom the Twins obtained from Texas and then quickly dealt to the Yankees with Donaldson, is slashing .266/.316/.304 with 12 RBIs in 47 games. The assumption was that Kiner-Falefa was acquired to play shortstop for the Twins, but that changed when Carlos Correa was signed by Minnesota.
  • Third baseman Gio Urshela came to the Twins in the Donaldson trade and is slashing .268/.328/.395 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 47 games. Catcher Gary Sanchez also was obtained in that trade and is hitting .224/.288/.435 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 41 games. Sanchez’s home run and RBI total are tied for second on the Twins.
  • Right fielder Max Kepler and relievers Caleb Thielbar, Emilio Pagán and Trevor Megill were placed on the restricted list by the Twins because they aren’t vaccinated for COVID-19 and are thus ineligible to travel to Canada for Minnesota’s three-game series against the Blue Jays. Because the Twins could win the weak AL Central, you have to wonder if Kepler and Pagan would consider getting the vaccine if the Twins end up facing Toronto in the playoffs.