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Kevin O’Connell, fresh off a Super Bowl victory as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator, was introduced as the Minnesota Vikings next head coach on Thursday, and the big takeaway from his first press conference is the team is pretty good.
The roster is pretty good.
The quarterback is better than pretty good because he’s “elite” and definitely his 2022 starter.
I half expected O’Connell to tell us the February weather in the Twin Cities is pretty good.
(The forecast low is -2 for Friday.)
O’Connell said he doesn’t believe the Vikings, 15-18 and unable to make the postseason the past two years, are that far from being a great team.
“I don’t. I really don’t,” the rookie coach said. “We’ve talked a lot about that. That’s one of the things you look for when you get these opportunities is where is this current team at, and then obviously what type of plan can we put in place to go accomplish the goals that we want to accomplish.
“I think there’s a lot of reasons, you just said it, on both sides of the ball that make me really excited about implementing the systems and the processes that we’re going to implement that these guys can then take and run with as players.”
Before O’Connell was introduced, there was uncertainty what the Vikings planned to do with quarterback Kirk Cousins in 2022. The 34-year-old has put up good statistics over the years, including 33 TDs and seven interceptions last season, but he’s never delivered any sustained postseason success.
And in 2022, Cousins is scheduled to cost the Vikings $45 million on their salary cap. And trading him post June 1 would save the team $35 million of that against their cap.
But that’s not the direction the Vikings are going.
O’Connell loves Cousins. And new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah loves Cousins.
They probably love him more than many Vikings fans.
“Well, I think Kirk has played at a very high level, and he’s done a lot of really good things throughout his career,” O’Connell said. “I know who he is as a player, and I know what he’s capable of, and part of our job as coaches is maximizing a player’s ability to go out every single Sunday and have success.
“I feel that’s going to be an advantage for us as we build our system offensively. (To) make sure we really focus on the things Kirk does well, which I do think are a lot of aspects of playing the position, and help him on a daily basis connect with his team, lead us, be a completely quieted-mind quarterback that can go play. Because he’s talented enough to go do that.”
Said Adofo-Mensah: “I’m excited that he’s excited to coach (Cousins) and lead him, and we’re focused on building the team around him to set us up to succeed the best we can.”
O’Connell coached Cousins for a year in Washington and coached Matt Stafford in Los Angeles last season. And he sees similarities.
“Yeah, they have a lot of similarities when it comes to the physical nature of throwing the football,” O’Connell said. “I think those guys are elite throwers.”
So Cousins it is.
And from how O’Connell was talking, he’s also excited about the rest of the Vikings roster — the one that was 8-9 last year and got both general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer fired.
O’Connell isn’t just digging the Vikings offense, but also thinks the defense is going to make noise with players it already has.
“I see impactful players at all three levels, I really do, starting in the back end with Harrison Smith,” he said. “I think he’s the perfect player for the defensive structure we want to play from the standpoint of the coverage, how we want to make all things look the same.
“He’s got great length. He’s got great instincts. He’s going to be a problem for people in the
middle of the field and around the line of scrimmage. He really always has been, speaking from experience.
“Obviously with the linebackers, with Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, those guys have long since been huge issues in this league for people defensively. I think there’s ways to use those guys and allow them to play with an attacking mindset while they’re still responsible for the things that they’re responsible for defensively, and then I think we’ve got players both internal and on the edges defensively, defensive line, that can impact the quarterback.”
This kind of talk is going to excite Vikings fans because they’re basically being told their team is good enough to win now and in a big way.
But they’re also being told by their new coach that he’s going to get results from the same players that didn’t deliver for the previous coach.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero