As the Vikings started training camp, with their first preseason game at New Orleans coming next Friday, owner Zygi Wilf was asked what he expects this season out of quarterback Kirk Cousins. Wilf didn’t point to touchdown totals or passing yardage marks.
“I expect to be in the playoffs this year,” Wilf said. “And, as every year, reach for that championship.”
The Wilf family bought the Vikings in 2005. Since that time, they have been the best ownership group in town when it comes to spending money and trying to win a title.
This season they have $204.2 million in active contracts — according to Spotrac.com, that number ranks fourth in the NFL behind the Browns ($212.4 million), Colts ($211.6 million) and 49ers ($208.8 million) — as the front office and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski have done everything they can to keep the players they need to contend for a championship.
And while Cousins might be the focal point of the 2019 season, the Wilfs also had to sign off on several big coaching changes that cost the team a lot of money.
The first name on that list is surely assistant head coach Gary Kubiak, who won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Broncos to conclude the 2015 season. He couldn’t have come cheap.
So far, Wilf likes what he sees from the coaching additions.
“They are great, they’re really helping with our players and we are ready to go,” he said. “Every time you have people with the intelligence, the football intelligence, as these guys have, it rubs off on everybody and everybody understands what to do. There is more supervision and more teaching and everybody can get better.”
When it comes to their offseason with player personnel, Wilf thought the team made the best moves they could.
“We got better in every area of our game,” he said, “and I think we’re up for this year to be a good year.”
So how do the Vikings improve on their 8-7-1 record last season?
“Win the close games,” Wilf said.
The 2018 squad lost only one game by more than two touchdowns — an embarrassing 27-6 home loss to the Bills in Week 3 — and shows how small the margin of error can be when it comes to a successful season.
But Wilf said that if last year was a disappointment, it has only made him more excited for the start of this season.
“We are going into our 15th year and I’m always optimistic but this year I am especially optimistic about the direction we’re going,” he said. “I’m looking for a good year.”
Dennison’s early take
While Kubiak may have been the biggest name coaching hire, the rest of the staff that filled in behind him were are familiar with his style of play, including offensive line coach and run game coordinator Rick Dennison.
Dennison and Kubiak played together for eight seasons with the Broncos and have coached together for 15 seasons.
Dennison will be working with a vastly revamped offensive line under a completely new system. How well the line fares is a key part of the season and so far, Dennison likes what he sees.
“Each place is its own challenge and its own reward,” he said. “I think the guys here just go and in general, they all work hard. Most offensive linemen do, but they are very eager to do what you tell them. This group has been really, really good about once I instruct them on something, do a technique and they are right to the letter. They do a great job.”
He gave an early breakdown of what he sees from each expected starter.
“[Left tackle] Riley Reiff is a veteran, knows what he’s doing, very powerful,” Dennison said. “Go to the other side, [right tackle] Brian O’Neill, very athletic. We have young guys who are athletic. [Left guard] Pat Elflein has played a lot of football at center and we have moved him to guard and he has done a great job. [Right guard] Josh Kline, a veteran, knows what he is doing, very good experience and been around some very good teams. We drafted our guy [center] Garrett Bradbury, who has really adjusted well.”
What has he seen from Bradbury so far as he adjusts to the pro game?
“He has been playing good,” Dennison said. “He is learning every day and if he makes a mistake, he corrects it, quickly.”
While several football analysts ranked the Vikings offensive line as one of the worst in the league in 2018, Dennison said he’s unconcerned with anything from last season.
“I can’t really go on much,” he said. “I just watch them as players and you try to evaluate them and I’m just trying to work forward from there. I know it will be a good offensive line, yes, sir.”
Twins draft update
Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey assessed how his 2019 draft picks are faring as they start their pro careers.
“Some of those guys have gotten off to great starts,” he said. “A young guy like [third-round pick, No. 90 overall] Spencer Steer went out to Elizabethton and got off to a great start and has already been promoted up to Cedar Rapids. [First-round pick, No. 13 overall] Keoni Cavaco started out down in the GCL [Gulf Coast League] and has had a little bit of an injury issue early on, nothing major, but we’re slowing him down to make sure he’s in a good place. [First-round pick, No. 39 overall] Matt Wallner, the local kid [from Forest Lake], has played really well out of the gates here.”
Steer, a shortstop, is hitting .328 with seven RBI and 13 runs scored in 15 games since being called up to Class A Cedar Rapids.
Cavaco, also a shortstop, is back in the lineup and hitting .175 through 18 games with the GCL Twins, including 26 strikeouts in 63 at-bats.
Wallner is having better luck in Elizabethon. The outfielder is hitting .289 with three homers, 19 RBI and 22 runs in 37 games.
• On Wednesday, Jose Berrios became only the sixth pitcher in baseball history to strike out 11 batters while completing seven innings or less using 81 pitches or fewer. Berrios allowed only two hits in defeating the Marlins 2-1. The other pitchers to accomplish the feat are: Blake Snell earlier this season for Tampa Bay, Chris Sale last season with Boston, Greg Maddux with Atlanta in 2000 and Matt Perisho with Texas and Kevin Millwood with Atlanta in 1999.
• Former Twins reliever Blake Parker made his first appearance with the Phillies on Thursday and struck out two and gave up two hits in one inning of relief. The Phillies beat the Giants 10-2.