The preparation for the Vikings season began in earnest Friday, with the full roster at training camp and their starters getting back out on the field.
It had been a long wait for quarterback Kirk Cousins, who told me at the end of OTAs that this offseason is all about getting ready for a 2019 season that he hopes will remove some of the bad feelings the club had at the end of 2018, when the Vikings lost their final game to the Bears and missed the playoffs.
“I am really looking forward to the chance to move on from last year, get the bad taste out of our mouths and start to play winning football and to do that week after week,” Cousins said. “When last season ended, we have had to wait a long time to get back out there, and still waiting. But I’m excited for that opportunity when it comes.”
No doubt Cousins is on the spot, and he is expected to be able to operate an offense put in place by a new staff, including assistant head coach Gary Kubiak, offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak.
A lot more is expected from the offense and Cousins, including the production of receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, whose numbers both dipped in the latter half of last season.
Building off first year
While a lot of people seem to think Year 2 is going to be a big difference-maker for Cousins, he doesn’t necessarily see it that way. He thinks it is just a continuation of everything he learned in his first season with the Vikings.
“I don’t think anything has changed. I felt like I asserted myself in Year 1 and need to do the same in Year 2,” the 30-year-old said. “But it helps to know your teammates better, to have that relationship built up with teammates and coaches and the support staff. That is where the benefit is.”
If you want a glimpse of why the Vikings front office remains so high on Cousins, consider this: Pro Football Focus rated the highest adjusted completion percentage for any QB who has attempted at least 500 passes in a domed stadium — like the Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium.
That stats credit passers for on-target throws that are dropped, and removes throwaways, batted balls at the line, spiked balls and throws while being hit, and Cousins rated first overall in his career at 79.6%, ahead of Drew Brees (79.0), Aaron Rodgers (78.3) and Tom Brady (76.7).
Kubiak family system
Cousins will be working closely with the Kubiak family. Cousins said Gary and Klint Kubiak have been really helpful in giving him some tips to improve his play.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Cousins said. “They have made some great coaching points to me through these last several weeks about how I can improve my footwork, my discipline as a player. I am really taking their coaching and trying to apply it so I can take another step as a player.”
And Cousins said there’s also no question that having someone with Gary Kubiak’s experience — he has been a part of seven Super Bowl teams as a player or coach, winning four — can really help him understand what it takes to be a Super Bowl player.
“I have learned quite a bit from him,” Cousins said. “I have enjoyed picking his brain and watching him teach not only me but the rest of the offense. He is a very valuable asset to our organization. Being a part of four Super Bowls, as a coach, I think three as a player, so really seven total, which is an incredible number, anybody who has had that much success in the league, it is a blessing to be able to learn from them.”
Helping the offensive line
The system around the offensive line, with new position coach Rick Dennison and new linemen Garrett Bradbury and Josh Kline joining Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein and Brian O’Neill, will play a big part in the club’s success.
“I think we have a great line in place,” Cousins said. “I have total confidence in who we have and the decisions we have made there. Now it’s about learning the scheme and mastering the scheme so we’re all on the same page when we go out there.”
When asked if the line needed to improve from last season, when Cousins was sacked 40 times on 606 pass attempts, he said that helping the line improve isn’t just about what that group does.
And there’s no doubt that the plan with the new offense is to have Cousins roll out a lot more and make quicker throws in the passing game.
“I think there is a lot of things that can happen to put our offensive line in a position to be successful that has nothing to do with their own play,” Cousins said. “If I get rid of the ball quickly, if we can run the ball effectively, there are some things we can do that won’t ask them to constantly be protecting on seven-step drops for a lot of time, which any offensive line that has to do that over and over is going to have a hard time. We need to put them in a position to be successful, and that is where that starts.”
• Forbes ran its list of the most profitable franchises in sports this past week, and the Vikings ranked No. 35 with a value of $2.4 billion and operating income of $90 million. The Twins and Timberwolves did not make the list as only nine MLB teams and seven NBA teams made the top 50. The NFL had 26 of the top 50.
• Pro Football Focus gave the Vikings the best odds to win the NFC North at 31.3%, but the race is tight. The Bears were at 30.6%, the Packers 24.6% and the Lions 13.5%.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said maintaining the 22 verbal commitments in the 2020 recruiting class until the December signing period is a challenge. “There were 642 de-commitments two years ago alone,” he said. “That is kind of where we’re averaging right now in college football. But I will say that we talk to our recruits every single day, somehow, someway, through text messages or talking on the phone or FaceTime, different things like that.”
• Twins owner Jim Pohlad said that while the team invested millions of dollars in baseball technology and operations, how big of an advantage that gives the team remains to be seen: “Everybody is using technology to varying degrees, but most are taking real advantage of it. Does it have something to do with [the Twins’ success in 2019]? I don’t know. It’s hard to say when everybody is doing it.”
• Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario on what it’s like having a fully healthy outfield again with Byron Buxton in center and Max Kepler in right: “These are the best outfielders I have ever played with, and I feel comfortable out there knowing that we communicate so well.”
• The latest ESPN 2020 NBA mock draft has former Rochester John Marshall standout Matthew Hurt going No. 13 overall and Apple Valley product Tre Jones going 16th. Hurt and Jones will play their first regular-season game together with Duke against Kansas at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5.