A lot of the talk surrounding the Vikings’ signing of Kirk Cousins, who attended his first organized team activities with his new squad this opast week, was about what he could bring to an offense that has featured six starting quarterbacks over the past four seasons.
But what is just as important is what this Vikings offense can bring to Cousins, who has never had a collection of wide receiver talent like he will this year.
Adam Thielen, who is entering the second year of a four-year contract, shattered his career highs with 91 receptions and 1,276 receiving yards last season. He ranked fifth in the NFL in reciving yards and ninth in receptions.
In Cousins’ three seasons as the full-time starter with Washington, the most yards any of his receivers caught for was the 1,041 of Pierre Garcon in 2016.
Now Cousins will have not only Thielen but Stefon Diggs, as well. Pro Football Focus named them the NFL’s No. 1 wide receiver duo last year.
Thielen and Diggs went to Atlanta in April to work out with Cousins after the Vikings signed their new QB.
“It was awesome. I think the biggest part of that was to get to know him on a personal level and just try to get that first initiation of how he likes guys to run routes and what he feels comfortable doing, and then just try to get on the same page,” Thielen said. “I think it was a really good start for Diggs and I to get a jumpstart on that.”
There is no doubt Thielen and Diggs have shown that they can adapt to any offensive system and any quarterback.
In 2016, Norv Turner started the season as the offensive coordinator, but he resigned seven games in, with Pat Shurmur taking over. That year, with Sam Bradford at QB after arriving just before Week 1 following Teddy Bridgewater’s injury, Diggs and Thielen combined for 153 receptions and 1,870 yards.
With a full season under Shurmur in 2017 and Case Keenum coming in for an injured Bradford after Week 1, Thielen and Diggs combined for 155 receptions and 2,125 yards — and that was with Diggs missing four games to injuries.
How does Thielen think Cousins will change the offense?
“I think everybody individually does things a little differently,” Thielen said. “As a quarterback, every quarterback has their strengths and their weaknesses. I think the thing he really brings to the table is the way that he leads, and his passion for the game of football. It has been really fun working with him and learning this offense together.
“As a receiver group, we’re really excited to keep getting some reps with him, and especially in some live situations. It has been a while since we’ve gone against a live defense so we’re excited to do that.”
Asked about the relationship he has building with Cousins early on, Thielen said: “For sure, he’s a pretty easy guy to be around and that makes it easy on us receivers. I think he gets along with everybody and it’s nice to have that, especially in that room when you need to have that room as a leader.”
Improving day by day
While it might seem that Thielen has already proven so much on the football field — going from an undrafted free agent from an NCAA Division II program to a second-team NFL All-Pro — the Detroit Lakes and Minnesota State Mankato product said that isn’t satisfying to him.
“I think just keep working and taking it one day at a time,” he said about his preparation for 2018. “I think what’s kind of got me to where I am in my career is just kind of taking it one day at a time and focusing on the little things and letting everything else kind of play itself out.”
Thielen said that when it comes to new Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, everyone is looking at it as a chance to keep getting better.
“He’s really excited about the opportunity here and he wants to help us get better as a football team,” Thielen said of the former Philadelphia quarterbacks coach. “He really is just trying to bring all of his experience here and try to help us win just like we all are doing.
“It’s a lot different. It’s still football so there’s only so much you can do, but there is a lot of things that are different. But I think that’s the exciting thing about playing football is those little changes kind of give you a new, fresh start, and adds a little new excitement.”
DeFilippo praises Diggs
Speaking of DeFilippo, he said he knew he was inheriting a talented receiver in Diggs but he said that seeing Diggs in the first three OTAs was eye- opening.
“More of the tape study of what I had of the Vikings was when I got here, the tape doesn’t do that justice,” he said. “His ball skills are fantastic. The way he tracks the football in the air.”
Diggs said that so far he has enjoyed matching the 40-year-old DeFilippo’s energy on the field.
“I bring the energy a lot, and he’s one of those guys that give you that positive energy,” Diggs said. “As a coach he gets me going and definitely keeps me focused out there. He keeps you minding your P’s and Q’s, because he has a lot of things that he likes to do.”
• ESPN said if the 2018 Vikings are going to exceed last season’s results, there’s no doubt that Kirk Cousins will have to be the team MVP.
• Adrian Peterson told NFL.com on Friday that he is 100 percent healthy and he definitely wants to play in 2018. The former Vikings running back is 33 years old and ran for 529 yards last season in 10 games with New Orleans and Arizona.
• Pro Football Focus said Dalvin Cook is primed for a breakout season in his second year. “He ranked eighth in yards after contact per attempt (2.6) and tied for second in total forced missed tackles (18) among the 27 running backs with at least 50 touches in Weeks 1-4 [in 2017].”
• Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino writing in his blog: “Why am I so confident that this team can be special? Our locker room is full of winners. Dupree[McBrayer], Jordan [Murphy], Amir [Coffey], Eric [Curry], Michael [Hurt] and Brady [Rudrud] were all part of a terrific team.”
• Cole Kramer, the Eden Prairie quarterback and 2019 Gophers commit ranked by recruiting experts as one of the best QB prospects to come out of Minnesota in some time, worked out at Nike’s Opening Regionals in Canton, Ohio.
• Baseball America released its top 500 draft prospects this past week, and ranked No. 30 was Kentucky junior Sean Hjelle, a 6-11 righthander from Mahtomedi High School. Gophers junior shortstop Terrin Vavra was No. 429. The magazine also projected the Twins to draft Mississippi lefthander Ryan Rolison with the No. 20 pick on June 4.
• The San Diego Padres appear to have made the right decision by signing All-Star reliever Brad Hand to a three-year, $19.7 million contract in the offseason. The lefthander from Chaska entered Saturday with 15 saves, tied for third most in MLB. He was 1-3 with a 2.08 ERA, and had struck out 39 in 26 innings.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Sunday. • E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org