Zimmer, Vikings aim for rebound with restocked defense
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-9)
CAMP SITE: Eagan, Minnesota
LAST YEAR: After a badly deteriorated defense and a rash of turnovers by QB Kirk Cousins left the Vikings at 1-5 entering their bye week, the brilliance of rookie WR Justin Jefferson and workhorse RB Dalvin Cook helped them finish on a better note. Cousins recovered from the rough start to post a career-high 35 touchdown passes and help the offense finish fourth in the NFL in yards and 11th in points, despite inconsistent protection. Still, the Vikings missed the playoffs for a fourth time in seven seasons under Mike Zimmer, putting the head coach in prove-it mode.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson, DT Sheldon Richardson, CB Mackensie Alexander, CB Bashaud Breeland, S Xavier Woods, DE Stephen Weatherly, K Greg Joseph, CB Tye Smith, LB Nick Vigil, LT Christian Darrisaw, RG Wyatt Davis, QB Kellen Mond.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LT Riley Reiff, TE Kyle Rudolph, S Anthony Harris, LB Eric Wilson, K Dan Bailey, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Shamar Stephen, DT Jaleel Johnson, LB Todd Davis, LB Hardy Nickerson, CB Mike Hughes, CB Chris Jones, RB Mike Boone, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
CAMP NEEDS: Bringing rookies Darrisaw and Davis up to NFL speed will be high on the to-do list, as new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak puts his stamp on the scheme after succeeding his now-retired father. Most of the work to be done is on defense, with an influx of experience from the offseason shopping spree led by the eight-time Pro Bowl pick Peterson likely to help the cause. Zimmer, who had his hands full last year with an especially young group of CBs, will lean on Peterson a lot, with Breeland and Alexander also expected to fill starting roles. DT Michael Pierce, who opted out of 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, must prove he’s in shape. DE Danielle Hunter and LB Anthony Barr are also rounding back into form after injury-wrecked seasons.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: Darrisaw was drafted to replace Reiff, the team’s most reliable blocker, but the learning curve for a left tackle can be steep. Seeing veteran swingman Rashod Hill start the season opener, thus, would not be a big surprise. Davis, the other draft pick on track to be a long-term fixture, will also have to beat out holdover Dakota Dozier. Finding a starter at DE opposite Hunter will also be on the get-done list, with Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, Jalyn Holmes and rookies Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson all likely in the mix. Don’t forget the kicker, with Joseph carrying only 16 career NFL games into camp and the possibility of a free agent being brought in for more competition.
EXPECTATIONS: The odd-numbered years under Zimmer have been the best ones, and the pieces are in place for a rebound. This will be a crucial season for him and GM Rick Spielman, not to mention Cousins, who now has a successor-in-waiting with Mond being drafted in the third round. Winning a playoff game or two will be paramount to their future in purple.
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