The Vikings are getting closer to playing football. Training camp ramps up this week with the start of an eight-day strength and conditioning program that features some on-field work (rookies started earlier). We’ll preview the key points at each position until practices are scheduled to begin Aug. 12; full pads on Aug. 17.
Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion, Jake Browning, Nate Stanley
In: Stanley (seventh-round pick)
Cousins heads into his third season with the Vikings fully entrenched as the team’s quarterback for the foreseeable future, after the Vikings extended his contract through 2022 in exchange for cap relief in March. He is coming off the best season of his career, having thrived off play action in Gary Kubiak’s scheme last year, and won his first career playoff game after two clutch overtime throws in New Orleans. His challenge in 2020 will be to recreate some of the downfield success he had last season with Stefon Diggs now in Buffalo; first-round pick Justin Jefferson began training camp on the COVID-19 reserve list, and while the Vikings signed Tajae Sharpe this offseason, they’ll need other targets to emerge for Cousins if defenses focus on Adam Thielen. Mannion, who started the Vikings’ regular-season finale against Chicago, returned on a one-year deal to back up Cousins. Stanley’s experience in a pro-style scheme at Iowa made him an attractive fit for the Vikings, who spent a draft pick on a backup quarterback for the first time 2008.
Cousins is the unquestioned starter in a year where the Vikings will have no preseason games and fewer practice snaps for backups than usual, so the battle for the No. 2 spot will happen on a condensed timetable. This year’s constraints could give Mannion an advantage over Browning and Stanley, simply because of his NFL experience. Browning, who got $140,000 guaranteed to sign with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent a year ago, will have to hold off Stanley for the Vikings’ No. 3 QB spot.
Player to watch
Cousins. There’s no need to overthink this — the Vikings’ 2020 success will be dictated by how well the quarterback connects with a different group of pass-catchers and how effective he is on downfield throws without Diggs. He was the NFL’s most effective QB on play action last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Vikings’ offseason moves indicated they plan to ride with both Cousins and their current offensive structure for the foreseeable future. The team’s decision-makers have talked publicly about how Cousins can still improve with stability around him; the Vikings might need him to be even more effective if their young secondary is prone to a few costly mistakes that turn more games into shootouts.
129.9: Cousins’ passer rating on play-action passes last year, according to Pro Football Focus. He completed 71.8 percent of his throws off play fakes, throwing for 14 touchdowns in 142 play-action attempts and 12 TDs in 302 attempts without play action.