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Five things to keep an eye on at Vikings training camp

Wednesday will mark the first time since 2014 that the Vikings will go through training camp with someone other than Mike Zimmer in charge.

Kirk Cousins
A big question for the Minnesota Vikings this year will be the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins. The veteran could be poised for the best season of his 10-year career. He threw for 4,221 yards and 33 touchdowns last season.
USA Today Sports file photo
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EAGAN, Minn. -- While everyone got a sneak peak into the Kevin O’Connell era during spring workouts, the small sample size didn’t provide enough time to glean much about the Minnesota Vikings’ new head coach.

As much as O’Connell let his personality shine at times, there were many questions left unanswered about how he actually planned to operate this season. Those answers will start to crystalize when the Vikings open training camp on Wednesday at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

It will mark the first time since 2014 that the Vikings will go through training camp with someone other than Mike Zimmer in charge. Though it’s been a welcomed change so far with O’Connell at the helm, the next few weeks will be an important next step as the Vikings set their sights on the 2022 season.

Here are five things to keep an eye during training camp:

What’s the overall vibe?

It’s no secret that Zimmer started to wear on people (especially players) by the end of his tenure. His demeanor was brash, and according to star linebacker Eric Kendricks, he led “a fear-based organization” from the top down. So, it’s no surprise that O’Connell is in many ways the antithesis of Zimmer. That was evident throughout organized team activities as O’Connell preached culture and connectedness. It will be interesting to see how that translates to the whole team during training camp.

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How does Kirk Cousins look?

There’s reason to believe that Kirk Cousins could be poised for the best season of his 10-year career. He threw for 4,221 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, playing for Zimmer, who wasn’t his biggest fan. Now, Cousins has O’Connell firmly in his corner, which could make a big difference when it comes to production. As much as he has become a lightning rod for criticism over his past four seasons with the Vikings, and for good reason, Cousins is objectively talented for the position. Will he be able to flourish with an offensive-minded coach leading the way?

Jefferson_Justin_2020.JPG
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
Kam Nedd / Minnesota Vikings

Is Justin Jefferson elite?

Justin Jefferson has goals of establishing himself as the best receiver in the NFL. Luckily for him, O’Connell knows how to help receivers reach their full potential. As the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams last season, O’Connell helped Cooper Kupp post video-game numbers: 145 receptions 1,947 yards, 16 touchdowns in 2021. That bodes well for Jefferson, who had 108 receptions for 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

Will defense be improved?

For as much as the Vikings struggled on defense last season, it’s easy to see a pathway for improvement this season. With pass rusher Danielle Hunter healthy, and fellow pass rusher Za’Darius Smith added to the mix, the Vikings should be able to generate a ton of pressure off the edge. That alone can cover up a lot of weakness for a defense. Add in the fact that new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has a scheme that has been known to confuse opposing offenses, and the Vikings likely won’t be as porous as they were last season.

Who wins the position battles?

As is the case with every training camp across the league, the Vikings have a number of position battles that will be won or lost over the next few weeks. Chris Reed and Jesse Davis will be battling it out to be the starting right guard; Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson and rookie Jalen Nailor appear to be in a fight for the No. 4 receiver spot, and rookie Lewis Cine will be competing with Cam Bynum for the starting safety spot opposite Harrison Smith.

MORE MINNESOTA VIKINGS COVERAGE:
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Allen is looking to join former Minnesota defensive linemen Alan Page, Carl Eller, John Randle and Chris Doleman in the hall.
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Former Miami coach is viewed as a perfect fit for Vikings as they work to revamp their struggling defense.
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Cousins threw three touchdown passes, besting Derek Carr's two for the AFC in likely his last appearance in Las Vegas as a member of the Raiders.
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According to NFL Network insider Tom Pelissero, the Carolina Panthers have hired Evero as their next defensive coordinator.
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Whoever head coach Kevin O’Connell decides on will be tasked with fixing a group that recently finished No. 31 in the league in total defense
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A replacement for Eagles OLB Hasson Reddick, Hunter will join five teammates Sunday in Las Vegas
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Winners to be announced at the NFL Honors event on Feb. 9
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Jefferson led the NFL with 128 catches and 1,809 receiving yards in his third season. He would become the first wideout ever to win AP MVP honors.
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Ultimately, hiring a defensive coordinator will be O’Connell’s call, and he has to nail it
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Analyst Jason Fitzgerald, using a possible cap number of $225 million, has the Vikings now at $24.55 million over the cap, which gives them the third-least amount of room among all NFL teams.

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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