During the first two weeks of the NFL offseason program, only strength and conditioning coaches are allowed to be on the field with players during workouts. It means that though new Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell and his staff have been able to meet with players to install the team's playbook, the on-field work happens under of strength coach Josh Hingst and executive player health and performance director Tyler Williams.
Vikings players, then, end up with a fair amount of input during the first two weeks of offseason practices. As much as O'Connell has talked about empowering players and changing the team's culture, the early practices give them a chance to structure things on their own.
"You're able to kind of be your own players, be your own coaches," safety Cam Bynum said. "We can talk about things and be able to say, 'Hey, if I see this on this, let's play it a certain way.' There's kind of a lot of freedom that we have on the defense. I think that just seems like the whole coaching staff right now; everything seems really free, and being able to bounce ideas off of each other, and be able to play football freely and basically learn and play with your teammate."
On Tuesday, quarterback Kirk Cousins directed the Vikings' passing drills during the open portion of practice, telling receivers and the team's backup quarterbacks how he wanted things done.
"Obviously in a new system, somebody has got to take charge out there," O'Connell said. "For us, that's Kirk. He's sitting front and center in every meeting, asking questions, both in the quarterback room and in front of the unit. He's one of the guys I mentioned in the team meeting yesterday, speaking up and getting involved.
"From everything I'm hearing about what's going on on the grass with Josh and Tyler's group out there, he's been great, leading the charge. They're throwing different routes we're teaching in the classroom. I think Phase One [of the offseason program] is really set up for someone like Kirk to come out and take the reigns and run with it. The best thing is that we get to start getting out there with him next week."
O'Connell keeping close eye on Hunter
After missing 11 games last season because of a torn pectoral muscle, Danielle Hunter was on the field to work out with the Vikings' defense on Tuesday morning, participating without restrictions during the portion of the session open to reporters.
Hunter will play outside linebacker in the Vikings' base defense as the team shifts to a 3-4, and likely will line up at his normal defensive end spot when the team is in the nickel package.
O'Connell expressed his excitement about the pairing of Hunter and Za'Darius Smith at the NFL owners' meetings last month, and was still buzzing about Hunter on Tuesday.
"I think he's learning a new defense. He's learning how he's going to fit, which he's going to be a major, major factor in everything we do against the run and the pass," O'Connell said. "I know he's fired up. He looks great, is moving around great, and ultimately that will be another guy I'll be keeping a close eye on when we get on the grass next week."
Bynum: 'I expect to' start at safety
After the Vikings let Xavier Woods leave in free agency, it effectively cleared a pathway for Bynum to take the starting job next to Harrison Smith in the Vikings' defense.
Bynum, who started three games a year ago, said Tuesday he plans to win the job.
"I expect to, just with the body of work I've put in, my preparation," he said. "Regardless, I'm coming in to compete for a spot. I don't know what the coaches have in mind. My mind-set is I got to earn it and I expect to win whatever position I'm put in."
His first start came last year in place of Smith, who missed the Vikings' loss to the Ravens after testing positive for COVID-19. Bynum had an interception and 12 combined tackles in that game, before posting a sack the following week.
"The first game I started I had no clue I was going to start until a few hours before the game," he said. "But I think that just goes with my preparation, I prepared as if I was the starter all year. Now that I had a chance to be that, my preparation isn't going to slip. It's going to go even higher now."