The Vikings open training camp … wait, this can’t be right … next week? Where is the summer going?
OK, yes, that information is correct. So we might as well talk about this: What is the most pressing question facing the Vikings as they prepare to start camp?
First take: Michael Rand
There are a lot of options here. That’s what happens when you start a year with Super Bowl aspirations and finish 8-7-1 and out of the playoffs.
I could zero in on Kirk Cousins … or the ongoing search for a third receiver … or the notion that any slippage from the defense could spell trouble.
But instead, the most pressing question is an all-too-familiar one: Will the offensive line play in 2019 manage to be at least adequate?
Poor line play derailed the 2016 and 2018 seasons and heavily influenced the 2017 NFC title game blowout loss. The cap-strapped Vikings made investments in the line through free agency and the draft, but those moves aren’t guaranteed to work.
If the offensive line play is poor again, every other question about the offense is moot.
Andrew Krammer, Vikings writer:
The offensive line is the deciding factor, especially for a talented Vikings roster that is currently paying 11 players at least $10 million per season, which leads the NFL, per Spotrac.com.
So can the O-line hold up and let the stars be stars? To me it comes down to that interior in rookie center Garrett Bradbury and new guards Pat Elflein and Josh Kline. They’re the answer the Vikings front office came up with to fix this group in front of Cousins.
But let’s step back to Cousins. Perhaps the most important offseason addition was assistant head coach Gary Kubiak, who is installing a system with Kevin Stefanski meant to get more from Cousins.
The most pressing question, instead, could be: Is Cousins now comfortable with the offense, from the play designs to the pass-run balance to being under center more?
Rand: There are plenty of numbers that suggest the offensive line did Cousins no favors last season, including allowing an NFL-high 217 QB pressures (per Next Gen Stats from the NFL).
The Vikings also didn’t tailor their offense to Cousins enough, including a relative paucity of play-action.
For $28 million a year guaranteed, though, shouldn’t you get a QB who can thrive regardless of system? I still think the line play, above all else, will determine his comfort level.
Krammer: Vikings fans should’ve learned in 2017, when Case Keenum led the team to 12 regular-season wins, that the system can be the difference. Vikings brass believes this Kubiak-driven philosophy will not only help Cousins ascend but will make things easier for the offensive line as well.
Cousins isn’t expected to be a sitting duck anymore in shotgun. They want to move him around. So this new approach, leaning heavily on Dalvin Cook and the run game, could solve both pressing questions.
Rand: The system can be the difference. But they chose Cousins over Keenum and paid a lot more to do it. We’ll see how it all turns out.
Final word: Krammer
Paying Cousins was the cost of doing business in the NFL, and the belief he can get them over the NFC title game hump.
If they can’t get back there by 2020, then wholesale changes may be another cost to pay.
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More North Score: startribune.com/NorthScore