Friday mailbag: Packers without Rodgers, OL rookies and Cook's workload

After one week of OTAs, Vikings fans have lots of questions

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By Matthew Coller

Happy Friday everyone… we’ve got a week of OTAs to discuss along with some other fun questions so let’s dive right into it…

Riccardo via email: Something that has been irking me lately is something from seasons past. It is often cited that Defilippo was fired because he didn't run enough. Do you think this was the case?  Or was he bad at his job and not running enough was the excuse that was used to axe him?

“Because he didn’t run enough” definitely doesn’t cover it. The conflict started from the beginning when DeFilippo put in his offense in OTAs. Zimmer has always believed in running to set up play-action passes and I got the sense he really appreciated Pat Shurmur using play-action with Keenum on the third highest percentage of drop backs of any QB in 2017. But DeFilippo was running everything out of the shotgun, spreading it out and using a short passing game as a pseudo running game. That can work, it’s what the Bills do, but it wasn’t what Zimmer wanted with Cook in the backfield and it wasn’t what worked in the past for Kirk Cousins. I’m not sure I’d go as far to say that he was “bad at his job” as much being a bad fit scheme and personality wise. Once the offense fell apart vs. New England and Seattle, Zimmer felt he needed to do something. Clearly Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak’s offenses were better suited for Cousins.

@EricVikesfan28 What is your best guess of what would happen should the Vikings go 10-7 this season and lose in the wildcard? Would Cousins be staying? Zimmer staying? I’d think Spielman is safe. To me that’s the worst case scenario because it leaves them with no clear direction afterwards.

This question is exactly what makes the 2021 season so interesting. I wish I knew the answer. On one hand, you could make the case that a 10-7 season with a fairly young team would be a sign that they’re on their way back to a 2017 type year. On the other, you could argue that 7-10 win seasons sort of define this franchise and something needs to be changed to get over the hump. Your assessment that it’s the worst-case scenario is fair because it doesn’t give an easy answer. If they go 5-12, it’s clear changes need to be made. If they go 12-5, we could expect continuity. The middle leaves them in a tough spot with these huge decisions.

@andrew_schuba Did you ask to try on one of the soft shell helmets?

If I’m going to borrow anything from the practice equipment it’s the giant donuts that they roll around the field. Maybe I could train my dog to jump through them. I do wish those helmets had a leather look rather than white.

@DrewSikkink Over/under on touches for non-Dalvin running backs… Best and worst 90s era NFL uniforms…

I’ll go with 140 non-Dalvin touches. Assume there’s a few dings and cuts, maybe a handful of games where they’re ahead and pounding away with Mattison. If Cook is mostly healthy, it’s hard to see more than that. Mattison had 96 carries last year and the next most was Mike Boone with 11.

Hands down the best 90s era NFL uniform was the Houston Oilers. There is no debate. The worst was when the Cowboys changed theirs to include more blue and those cheesy gigantic stars on the shoulder pads. Awful. The Broncos going away from their classic uniforms in the 90s was also a very bad idea. Elway should have been raising the trophy in bright orange.

@xStriider1 now that its a 17 game season, do u expect the Vikes to ease Dalvin's workload and incorporate Mattison & Nwangu more? its year 3 for Mattison and he has less than 200 carries & with Nwangu there's untapped potential aside from him being a KR/PR specialist

I’d be very surprised if anything was different in terms of Cook’s workload unless he is dinged up. Here’s how I think of it: Before the game you plan to use Mattison 30% of snaps to take some pressure off Cook but then it’s 17-17 in the third quarter — are you taking him out? Some teams would. The Saints do this with Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. They trust both (or they’ll slide Kamara to receiver). It’s just not something the Vikings have done recently. Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushes during his first full year with Zimmer. Is it playing with fire? Yes.

As for Kene Nwangwu, he’ll have to prove he can play at all first before we can write him into the lineup. This team highly values RB pass blocking and Nwangwu hasn’t done a lot of that in his career so far.

@youvikethat1 What’s a modern day comp to Jake Reed? I feel like he gets lost when we talk about 90s Vikings.

Great question. Go back and watch a game from 1994 and you’ll hear the announcers talking about Reed-Carter as the premier duo in the league. From ‘94-’97, Reed averaged 72 catches and 1,200 yards per season. That’s superstar stuff from that era. Marvin Jones comes to mind as a comparable. Terrific deep receiver and always getting second billing, whether it was behind Golden Tate or Kenny Golladay. Another guy who’s always been good but doesn’t get a ton of attention is Emmanuel Sanders. Every year the guy is really good and valuable and doesn’t ever get a lot of attention.

@rinkygolf What shapes up as the best camp battles on offense and defense? My votes are WR3 and who starts opposite from Hunter at DE. Within that DE question, which side does Hunter play this year?

You nailed the big two. It could be a legitimate fight for the starting left tackle position. Everyone will want Darrisaw to start but Rashod Hill is a decent NFL player. Darrisaw is going to have to play well to take that job from him and you can bet Mike Zimmer isn’t playing someone because of their draft status (see: Terence Newman playing over Trae Waynes). Another one might be the cornerback spots. If Gladney is suspended to start the year, Patrick Peterson, Cam Dantzler and Mackensie Alexander will be the starters but who’s after that? Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, Parry Nickerson etc. will be battling for a couple spots. Hunter will stay at left defensive end. Andre Patterson told us last year that he wouldn’t move him.

@benjackson0812 So what’s with the 1930s style helmets at OTAs??

To tell you the truth, we didn’t really get a straight answer. Zimmer talks next week so I’m sure it will come up. Maybe it’s actually safer than helmets when doing 11-on-11s without pads? That’s my guess.

@WarleyOwl Which character in Friends would Zimmer relate to the most?

So I’ve never actually watched the show but I have seen the Thanksgiving football episode. I’d go with whichever character on the show had the best technique.

@BD97 What stadium has the best reporter food

I enjoy how often this question comes up. It varies greatly. Nothing tops San Francisco. They had everything. I still have a photo of another reporter holding a full turkey leg from that press box.

@vikesfan1930 Would you rather : 1). Be in Hard Knocks for a season, like they chose Minnesota. OR 2) star in a 30/30 or Last Dance type of documentary on 2017 vikings ?

The way I wrote my book on 2017 (GET IT HERE FOLKS GET IT HERE) was inspired by The Last Dance. I tried to write it bouncing back and forth between the Miracle game and each key part of the season that connected somehow to the game and I had a bunch of features on the main characters throughout. So I’d love someone to take that outline and turn it into a documentary series. If ESPN was doing a 30-for-30, it would have to be on Favre’s time here, right?

@strum0404 PIck 1 FA on offense and defense you'd want to see the Vikings sign with their remaining cap space

If we assume Melvin Ingram isn’t happening, I’d go with Olivier Vernon and Danny Amendola. Assuming he’s healthy, Vernon is a very good pass rusher and Amendola is a high quality slot receiver. I’m not sure why neither one of these guys has a home yet.

@BaseballNorm what is the worst single performance by a Vikings player in a game since you started covering Vikings? And what event surrounding the Vikings most shocked you as you didn’t expect it to happen?

The first one that comes to mind is TJ Clemmings against the Houston Texans in 2016. He got demolished by Jadeveon Clowney and PFF gave him a 31.9 (out of 100) grade for the game. Usually you can’t see how individual O-linemen played until you look back at the tape but in that game he got whipped play after play and you could see it from space. I wrote after the game that they desperately needed someone else at left tackle and if I remember correctly that’s when they signed Jake Long. Also last year Dan Bailey vs. Tampa Bay. I mean, yeesh. That first half Sam Bradford played against Chicago in 2017 before they put in Keenum. I thought he was going to get really hurt.

Hands down the most shocking thing since I’ve covered the team is the time a person hung from the roof in Week 17 of 2016. That was insane. We thought the person might fall and die right in front of a full stadium of people.

@chasehanson77 Would you rather have Kirk Cousins as your starting nose tackle, or Michael Pierce as your starting QB?

I would guess that Cousins would be taken off on a stretcher if he tried to play nose tackle so I’ll go with Pierce at QB. I don’t know if Pierce can throw a ball or not but you’d be shocked at some of the things these massive guys can do. Freaking Vince Wilfork drilled a 35-yard field goal on Hard Knocks. Totally possible that Pierce could throw some screen passes or QB sneak for a first down.

@RobDN1 Better vet signing: Edge or WR3 and your impression of Hunter not being at OTA’s?

Depends on the edge. If it’s Ingram or Vernon, it’s them. If it’s a situational guy, probably WR3. What Hunter is doing makes a lot of sense financially. It’s just not smart to come to workouts without much in the way of guarantees. I don’t think we’re anywhere near time to panic yet though. There’s months to go before they need him on the field and sometimes these things run all the way to the last minute.

@jasonjwilde I work with two knuckleheads on @WildeAndTausch who think the #Packers would win the North even with Blake Bortles at QB all season. Why are they wrong?

The Packers do have a really strong roster. It’s not just Matt LaFleur’s offense that caused Rodgers to win the MVP. His offensive line was terrific as was his running game and Green Bay’s defense kicked it up a notch in the second half of the season. So could they play a journeyman QB and win 10 games? Probably. Bortles though? Probably not. He needed an unbelievable team around him to go 10-6 in 2017. They should trade for Case Keenum. I’m only sort of joking.

@DPruisman Where do you think AP and Frank Gore will end up, if they do get signed?

This feels like the end of the road for both guys. I’ll give Adrian this: He was pretty decent with Washington and I would not have expected that but with Detroit he only averaged 3.9 yards per carry last year. Teams are picking up UDFAs who gain 4.5 YPC. Maybe he waits until someone gets hurt and a team is desperate for an experienced running back?

@EricVikesfan28 Following up on this point from NBC’s Thor Nystrom. Are there any QBs who also didn’t meet these same thresholds, who actually went on to have successful NFL careers as starting QBs? I’ve looked, and had a hard time finding them. One I did find was Jay Cutler.

You’re referring to Thor’s tweet about Mond only getting over 2,900 yards, 20 TDs and 61% only once in his career. College stats are tough. The gap in quality of circumstances between two NFL QBs can be pretty vast but college is much, much greater. I would lean on draft status much more than college stats. The NFL scouts, proven to be very good at their jobs by the history of the draft, decided he was a third-round talent. That means his odds of being a long-term starting option are low. Jay Cutler being 11th overall pick tells you about how much different their skill sets were despite similar college stats. Cutler had unreal arm talent. Mond has some pretty clear shortcomings that he’s going to have to overcome in order to make it work. I think it’s fair to be skeptical if he can ever be a starter.

@benjackson0812 Who is a player (outside of Cousins) you look at and say if they have a great season the Vikings will go deep in the playoffs??

That’s the thing, right? If Cousins doesn’t have a great season they probably aren’t going anywhere even if other guys have amazing years. Think about 2018. Diggs and Thielen were both Pro Bowl worthy. Danielle Hunter was great. Harrison Smith was great. Eric Kendricks was great. And they went 8-7-1. That’s not to say that those performances didn’t matter, it’s just that there’s almost no path in today’s game to the NFCC game without great quarterback play. By the numbers the league has even changed since 2015. When the Broncos won, the average points per game was 45.6. Last year it was 49.6. That might not seem huge but it’s a pretty massive gain in just a couple seasons. That means offense controls more of the outcome than it ever has. Now I suppose getting Kirk to the next level probably would mean that the O-line plays great and someone other than Jefferson/Thielen emerges.

@rk2022 do you expect another K to be added before trading camp

We’ll see how the two guys that they have now end up looking throughout OTAs but it wouldn’t surprise me if they wait until after camp to see who gets cut.

@DShepeck Will Kirk become too reliant on Jefferson? The catch radius, route running, etc that got him his records last year will attract so much attention and I can see him forcing too many throws in what will be dbl coverage.

I don’t see that being an issue. That isn’t really Kirk’s way. He’s more of the type who wouldn’t force it to Jefferson enough. My understanding with Stefon Diggs was that his issue was never with Cousins directly but I’m certain that he was frustrated at times by the fact Cousins wouldn’t just throw it up for grabs and let him go get it. It’s fundamental to the argument that WR3 is important for this team because we’ve seen Cousins go to his correct read even if it isn’t a star receiver i.e. Treadwell or Aldrick Robinson.

@jcord8421 If Kirk is QB1 and Mond wins the QB2 spot considering how durable cousins has been do you roll with just two Qbs and use that extra spot on something else

They usually do it like that. It’s almost always QB1, QB2, Practice Squad QB. This year will depend on how far along Mond is by the time they get to the end of camp. If he isn’t ready, Jake Browning might have to be the backup. It takes a long time to adapt to the NFL for quarterbacks. Tua told the Miami media that basically he wasn’t using checks and alerts because he didn’t understand them well enough when he was a rookie. So it wouldn’t be shocking if they kept three QBs and if Mond wasn’t fully in command of the offense yet as QB2.

Josh via email: Thinking of two 2019 draft picks. Is it more important for the offense to have Bradbury or Irv Smith take a big step forward this season. And you can’t say both.

Irv. Even if they get a WR3 in the building, tight end is a such a big part of this offense. Not only from a receiving perspective, where they are expecting to get more out of him than they did Rudolph last year but also blocking. Being TE2 is way different than TE1 as a blocker. If Irv steps up, he could be majorly valuable. Bradbury could largely perform the same way as the last two years and be fairly serviceable for the position as long as he’s got the mental part down. He should be helped by better guard play, too. Should.

@jcord8421 Do you see someone like Kyle Hinton etc taking over backups roles or is that Dakota dozier job to lose, I got Mason Cole making team but after that it’s all backup tackles

That’s probably up to Kyle Hinton. They didn’t give Dozier much money to return, which would indicate that he’s fighting for a job but they clearly trust him so any interior OL backup is going to have to outplay him in practice. You can insert your jokes here but you’d be surprised. Even a guy who isn’t fit for 16 games is usually quite a bit better than the practice squad guys or players who don’t belong on the team. Remember Samia’s time as a starter last year? That was way worse than Dozier.

@LfcMay I once saw Leroy Hoard play in 1998. He had the most massive legs I’ve ever seen on a human. They were literally tree trunks. Have you ever experienced an oh my god moment like this with a player?

Oh yeah. All the time. I remember shaking Stefon Diggs’s hand and being like… what in the world? The guy is only like 5-11 but his hands are Mutombo sized. Danielle Hunter’s arm length and muscle mass are directly out of a video game. Rashod Hill is just a straight up mountain. They’re all crazy big though. Punters are jacked these days. An NFL locker room is not a place to walk around if you’ve been hitting the gym and feeling good about your physical fitness. We’re all a joke athletically compared to these fellas. I always laugh at those social media questions that are like, “could you score a touchdown in the NFL?” No buddy, you could not.

@TigerTige If Space Jam was a football movie instead of a basketball one, and assuming the real life person is the QB (probably Mahomes), which Looney Tunes would you pick to fill the other 21 positions and why?

OK I don’t know 21 Looney Tunes characters but I think the obvious answer here is that you want the Tasmanian Devil in the backfield. Bugs plays quarterback, right? Elmer is more of a quality control coach type. The one that goes “meep meep!” is a receiver for the Raiders.

@Up4Discussion_7 With the NFL playing a 17 game season for the first time in history, what are the odds a RB will break Eric Dickerson’s single season record, and the likelihood Dalvin Cook can do it in 2021?

I’ll go 10% chance somebody breaks it in the next five years. What Derrick Henry did last year was extremely unusual and he still would have needed another very good game to break Dickerson’s record. Staying healthy for 17 games with that kind of workload would be crazy hard and you still have to average 124 yards per game to get there. In a league where passing 50% of the time is a low mark, I can’t see Cook getting the ball enough to get there, even if he averaged his usual 5.0 yards per carry.

@MjButts Can we (fans) have a way to ask questions through you in a press conference? And you can label it as this question is from the fans on twitter, which absolves you from responsibility. I would have liked a question to Cook. DALVIN, are you glad the vikings drafted a GUARD?

Well, two things we generally try to avoid in asking questions to athletes is anything rhetorical or questions where we already know the answer. So if I were going to ask Dalvin about his new-look offensive line, I’d probably ask for his observations about the rookie linemen, how they’re fitting in and what type of understanding OL and RB need to have about each other’s jobs. In fact, that’s a good idea MJButts, I think I’ll ask that the next time we talk with him.

@JoeSchmo84 The Panthers video revealed the Vikings offer to move up to 8 in this years draft. Do you think that was to select Fields or Slater?

From other reporting it sounded like they wanted Slater but if they were offering 14 and 90 to get up there, that’s a lot to give away for a tackle with others available. I wish I knew for sure. It would have made a lot of sense to push the envelope even farther if they were set on getting Fields. Even without being sure, I think we can throw Fields into the, “what if they picked him?” along with Mac Jones in terms of things we’ll be tracking for a long time from this draft.

@Kfoll3 Would you take back Jarius Wright for WR3?

@OldNorse Your favorite WR3 Jarius Wright tweeted that he’s available. Interested?

There were actually more of these Jarius Wright tweets, I just wanted to use two of them to demonstrate the Jarius Wright love. He tweeted out that the Vikings should bring him back. At this point, that’s a tough one. He was a great option for them for a long time but the last time Jarius played was 2019 and he had 28 catches on 56 targets and PFF gave him a 47.8 grade. So that’s probably a no.

@JoeSchmo84 Who is the vet that could be the surprise “Alex Boone” cut?

Maybe Stephen Weatherly? It’s only $500k in dead cap if they cut him and they’ve got a crowded room of defensive ends with young guys pushing for playing time. They could also add someone else. I believe there was reported interest in Ryan Kerrigan. If he isn’t quite the fit they expected in bringing him back, that one wouldn’t stun me. Other than that, there aren’t really a ton of veterans on this team.

@jblohse If history repeats itself odds are Cousins has a really bad game early in the season, how do you think the team and him handle the fans screaming for Mond?

If they come back to US Bank Stadium 0-2, it’s probably happening on the first drive that they don’t score a touchdown. I doubt any of this stuff will have an impact on Cousins. He’s always been in the middle of some type of noise. Whether it was RGIII in Washington or his battle with their brass over his contract or the criticism from national media he’s faced in Minnesota because of his contract and expectations. He’s the same Kirk. As far as the team, they’re not going to bench him so they’ll just go about their business. They’ve been booed before. If next season starts like last season though and it’s week after week, then the noise would be pretty darn loud and it could be a distraction.

@GriffRobMike When do we expect the Vikings to move the O-lineman rookies to the first team? Preseason game 1? If Dozier is still starting by preseason game 2 I’m going to start getting nervous

That depends on them. I’d guess Darrisaw and Davis will mix in and out of first-team reps and get their chances against the starters as long as they are grasping the playbook and techniques that Rick Dennison wants out of them. At that point, it’s on them to perform better. They’re more talented than the starting veterans, so they’ll get the jobs as long as they’re capable. I can see the criticism for waiting but we also saw the first tackle off the board last year struggle mightily out of the gate. They probably did the right thing in 2018 by allowing Hill to start before O’Neill.

@jcord8421 What % would you put in each position battle Patterson beating Joseph at K The 31 year old rookie beating colquitt Turner winning the LS duties

Oh man, I have no idea. I would have never predicted they’d trade a fifth-round pick for a kicker/punter in camp in 2019 so I don’t even try to guess what’s going to happen at those positions. I’ll be tracking it closely though.

@CoreyHermanson Looking at the rejected Panthers draft night trade vs. actuals: would you rather have Justin Fields or Darrisaw, Davis, Mond, Jones and Robinson?

Anything that includes Justin Fields. Easily. I’d trade the entire draft class for Justin Fields without batting an eye. Nobody can predict which quarterbacks are going to work out but a guy who runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and instantly has some of the best arm talent in the league is the best bet you can make for getting to the Super Bowl at some point.

@pdefor If Rodgers doesn't go back to the Packers, how big is the dropoff? What order would the NFC North finish in?

The drop off is impossible to say until we know what Jordan Love can do. Most likely outcome is that the guy is, what, like Mitch Trubisky for his first year starting? The ceiling is higher than that but we can’t reasonably project greatness for the guy after he wasn’t even the backup last year. So if he’s Trubisky-esque, that would mean they could go 10-7 or 9-8 because their coach has a good system and their roster is full of quality players. That leaves us with a three way battle for the North that could be close. Chicago won a lot of games with Trubisky, so if Fields crosses that low bar, they can do some winning. Obviously the Vikings are improved from last year. It’s a really fascinating race without Rodgers.

@HollandJohnD Which players would comprise the 3-4 unit if the Vikings mix in some of that, on defense, this year?

Weatherly and Barr would be OLBs in that case, I guess. The only time they’ll use 3-man fronts is on third-and-long when they’re running blitzes to confuse the quarterback. They aren’t built at all to play a 3-4. They don’t have anyone who resembles a 5-technique defensive end like Cam Heyward and I don’t see 5-tech or OLB as a fit for Hunter. Plus the ship sailed long ago on the idea of Barr being an edge guy. You’re going to see nickel defenses all day except the occasional first down when the opposition uses two tight ends or a fullback and then it will be 4-3 base.

@varichak Why won’t they let the rookie offensive linemen practice with the first team?

They have to learn the offense before they can really compete for jobs. Rashod Hill and Dakota Dozier aren’t going to have any trouble practicing with Cousins, Jefferson, Thielen, Cook etc. They can get in there and execute without having to be taught a whole lot by coaches. The rookies need training wheels. They go with the inexperienced second and third teamers and learn the details of the offense so when training camp comes along they can compete. I understand that this team hasn’t earned any benefit of the doubt with the offensive line but this one isn’t a freakout situation over Darrisaw and Davis being brought along slowly.

@DanielVroman2 After seeing the soft-shell helmets what creative equipment innovation would you be excited to see next?

How about this: A field that can digitally project the play onto the turf like on Madden when you can show all the routes before you run the play. Seems like that would be a good teaching tool that would help players visualize their assignments.

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