The Minnesota Vikings held their final practice Aug. 8 before their first preseason game. Family Night at TCO Stadium. Being the highly knowledgeable fan and analyst that I am, I had to show up for my team.
The Vikings are entering a year similar to the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls with a lot of the future being up in the air, starting at the top. The Pizza Ranch and Hy-Vee dictator Kirk Cousins is in a contract year, and his future is even more in question after Vikings owner Mark Wilf said he’ll “leave that up to Kwesi” when asked about Cousins’ future with the team.
Despite the uncertainty, Cousins went out and looked amazing as always, finding Justin Jefferson wide open… like he always is, as well as rookie WR Jordan Addison, who has had his share of controversy, but has worked his way up the wide receiver depth chart.
“He doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He’s a real pro. Not all rookies have that steady demeanor about themselves. He wants to be great, and he’s showing it more and more, the more reps he gets, that he can be a really good player,” said Vikings offensive coordinator Wes Phillips.
Comments like those inject hope into my veins, and hopefully Addison can hit the ground running in his rookie year. Another rookie gaining a lot of attention is LB Ivan Pace Jr., an undrafted linebacker from Cincinnati. If you don’t know who Pace is, I don’t blame you. But let me fill you in. He put together the greatest defensive season ever by a Bearcat in 2022, totalling 137 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, ten sacks and three forced fumbles on his way to becoming the first Bearcat to earn unanimous All-America honors.
That sounds pretty great right? You may be asking yourself why he didn’t get drafted. Well, he’s five foot ten inches. That’s it. This has caused him to be labeled as “undersized,” but if that’s the case, then I have no idea what that makes me– I’m five feet tall.
However, someone that is anything but undersized is recent acquisition N’Keal Harry, who is the biggest wide receiver I think I have ever seen. Harry has been making a little bit of noise in training camp and has a shot at making the roster and reviving his career, four years after being drafted in the first round.
As I am writing this, the Vikings are playing in their first preseason game against the Seahawks, and RB Ty Chandler is cementing his legacy as the Adrian Peterson of the preseason. But it brings up another question. What will the Vikings running back room look like? Mattison is the assumed starter, but behind him are three solid options that can contribute. Chandler, seventh round pick DeWayne McBride and Kene Nwangwu will all likely make the roster, but how much will they be featured? Just more questions.
Sticking with the theme of questions, the always-questionable defense. Behind new defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who is an incredibly big addition, the Vikings have six positions that are expected to have new starters. After letting go of Eric Kendricks, Brian Asamoah II will step in. Byron Murphy and Mekhi Blackmon/Joejuan Williams are the new cornerback duo beside Akayleb Evans in the secondary. Marcus Davenport was poached from the Saints to replace Za’Darius Smith, and Dean Lowry and Khyiris Tonga will be clogging up the running lanes on the interior defensive line.
On the offensive side, Jefferson will make the Vikings a powerhouse by himself, but it’s the pieces around him that excite me the most this year, specifically the tight ends. T.J. Hockenson has the potential this year to become the best tight end in the NFL not named Travis Kelce, and I expect big things from him as Kirk’s safety blanket. I also have expectations for Josh Oliver as a run blocker that can open up the offense, and Johnny Mundt of all people, who has been solid in camp and will prove to be reliable when he plays. There is potential for this Vikings offense to be the best in the league in Cousins’ second year under our version of Sean McVay, Kevin O’Connell.
Now I may have lied when I said that the Vikings are similar to the 97-98 Bulls, but then again, maybe I didn’t. After a 13-win season in 2022, the 2023 Vikings have the potential to make some noise in a relatively weak NFC. Either way, it will be a fun season, and I am so ready for it to begin. Skol.
Header Photo: This season is going to go one of two ways. We are either going to be 13-4 and get bounced in the first round of the playoffs, or we will be drafting Caleb Williams or Drake Maye at no. 1 in the draft. For the sake of Kirk and myself, I hope it’s the former. (File Photo)
Write to Hayden Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org