The Vikings will enter training camp in about a month with all new offensive and defensive coordinators as Gary Kubiak takes over for Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator and Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer take over for George Edwards as co-defensive coordinators.
One big advantage that Kubiak has had in this virtual offseason is that he has been a coordinator in the NFL before, with the Broncos from 1995 to 2005 and with the Ravens in 2014, and of course he was a head coach with the Texans from 2006 to ’13 and with the Broncos from 2015 to ’16, winning the Super Bowl.
Kubiak said that being familiar with the role and working with several coaches with whom he has a history makes a big difference.
“First off, I don’t want to use the word easy for me, but I am working with some guys that I worked a lot with throughout my career,” Kubiak said. “The transition is very smooth from that standpoint of what I’m trying to get done and how I want to go about doing it. You know I really enjoyed myself last year. I really enjoyed working for Zim [head coach Mike Zimmer] and Rick [General Manager Rick Spielman] and our players, a tremendous group of players, very motivated.
“I am excited to get going again, I really am. Hopefully we can get back on that field here real soon, and I really feel fortunate that I’m getting a chance to continue to contribute. So very excited about this year.”
There was no doubt when Kubiak was brought in as an assistant head coach last season that he was going to play a big part in the offensive game plan with Stefanski in his first season as an offensive coordinator.
And Kubiak said that as he looks back to last season — when the Vikings finished eighth in points per game, their highest mark since 2009 — he thinks the way the team brought in some of his concepts will be a big help this year after the difficult offseason.
“I was very impressed with how the group picked up a new scheme, basically,” Kubiak said. “I know there was some overlap from that standpoint with what they had done in the past. But Kevin did a tremendous job of meshing with what I have done for years and what they wanted to hold on to, and I think we made up some ground really, really quickly. There is always things that you can do better, but I think the good thing is we have been able to go back and evaluate every play probably 10 times over from last year and decide where we want to continue to grow and what we maybe want to take out.”
The last time the Vikings had the same quarterback as their primary starter for three seasons in a row was when Daunte Culpepper was with the club from 2000 to ’04, but if Kirk Cousins stays healthy and starts the majority of the games he can break that streak.
Cousins posted the highest passer rating of his career last season (107.4) to go along with his second-highest completion percentage (69.1) and best record as a starter at 10-5.
Kubiak said Cousins has shown even greater leadership this offseason.
“Guys like him have had to take over, whether it’s trying to get together with the guys and try to do some throwing, you know, getting on the computer and talking to his teammates and saying, ‘Here is how I do this. Here is the verbiage. Here is how I run a two-minute drill.’ You know some of that hands-on stuff has probably been [done] more so than ever,” Kubiak said. “But I think Kirk came out of last year with a lot of confidence as a person and a player.
“I think he is very excited about our group moving forward and he knows he’s going to have to take on an even bigger role with some of these new, young pieces like [first-round pick] Justin [Jefferson]. I think Kirk has had a really good offseason and can’t wait to start throwing the ball around again. I know he is chomping at the bit.”
One thing that Kubiak said will benefit both him and his quarterback is that the offensive group coming back returns nine of 11 starters — with offensive lineman Josh Kline not being re-signed and wide receiver Stefon Diggs being traded.
“If you look at our group we are pretty much a veteran-type group, or a group that has been together other than the receiver position,” Kubiak said. “Obviously losing Diggs, a great player for us last year who was very productive, other than that particular position, which is going to be a very competitive position for us, we could probably line up today and go right back to work. We should make up some ground very quickly. I am hoping that carry-over helps us make a quick transition into this season, but we’re still going to have to catch up and have some young guys help us.”
• ESPN published a list of the most surprising success stories in college football recruiting and the Gophers were the Big Ten representative. “This class has two ESPN 300 commitments in cornerback Avante Dickerson and quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis. Dickerson, from Omaha, had offers from some of the top programs in the country, including Georgia, Oregon, USC and Tennessee, but he chose the Gophers,” ESPN wrote. “[P.J.] Fleck has been able to land six ESPN 300 commitments combined in his four recruiting classes from 2018 to 2021. That might not sound like a lot, but consider that Minnesota had only four ESPN 300 commitments in the nine recruiting classes from 2009 to 2017 and you can see the improvement.”
• Former Gophers golf standout Erik van Rooyen finished tied for 21st at the RBC Heritage Open last weekend at 14 under par. He has made $69,225 in seven events during the 2020 PGA season. He is ranked No. 40 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Spring Lake Park High School grad Troy Merritt finished tied for 70th at the RBC and has now made $298,260 in 13 events this season. He shot 68 in the first round of the Travelers Championships on Thursday.
• Former Gophers men’s basketball standout Nate Mason will play for Team CP3 in The Tournament, an event in Columbus, Ohio, starting next Friday. The tournament will air on ESPN, and the winning team will earn $1 million. Team CP3 is led by NBA legend Chris Paul. Former Gophers player DeAndre Mathieu is playing for Team Tookie, and Hopkins standout and NBA first-round pick Royce White is playing for Iowa United.
• It says a lot about former Gophers pitcher Max Meyer that after the Marlins selected him No. 3 overall in the MLB draft Miami CEO/part owner and Yankees Hall of Famer Derek Jeter called him on draft night and the two sides came to an immediate agreement on a contract.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday and 2 p.m. Friday.