Cousins, Vikings could benefit from Kubiak system continuity

July 20, 2020

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (11-7)

CAMP SITE: Eagan, Minnesota

LAST YEAR: Behind career-best season from QB Kirk Cousins, breakout years by RB Dalvin Cook and LB Eric Kendricks, strong pass rush and top-five turnover margin in league, Vikings earned wild-card spot and won playoff game in overtime at New Orleans. Fell flat at San Francisco following week while being overwhelmed by NFC champ’s unrelenting defense.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DT Michael Pierce, WR Justin Jefferson, CB Jeff Gladney, WR Tajae Sharpe, OT Ezra Cleveland, DE Anthony Zettel, CB Cameron Dantzler, DT James Lynch.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Stefon Diggs, DT Linval Joseph, DE Everson Griffen, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, RG Josh Kline, DE Stephen Weatherly, S Andrew Sendejo, S Jayron Kearse, offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, defensive coordinator George Edwards.

PANDEMIC CHALLENGES: Lack of spring practices meant limited opportunities for Cousins to develop rhythm with new WRs Jefferson and Sharpe. Coach Mike Zimmer's inexperienced group of CBs also lost valuable on-field instruction time.

CAMP NEEDS: Contract situation for Cook is top of mind, with Pro Bowl pick declaring he'll hold out until he has new deal. Settling tenuous offensive line will be critical, with LG Pat Elflein coming off rough season and RG wide open following cost-savings release of Kline. Seventh-year veteran Dakota Dozier is leading candidate, with 2019 fourth-round draft pick Dru Samia a darkhorse. After departure of top three CBs, Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd and rookies Gladney (first round) and Dantzler (third round) must quickly get up to speed in Zimmer's defense. Those five players have appeared in just 60 combined regular-season games.

EXPECTATIONS: Stefanski's hire as Browns head coach prompted Zimmer to make advisor Gary Kubiak new offensive coordinator, ensuring system continuity for Cousins and key pieces Cook, WR Adam Thielen, TEs Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. Cousins will need more consistency from OL and to take another step forward himself without Diggs to throw deep to. Growing pains are likely defense with youth in secondary and stalwarts Joseph and Griffen gone from DL. Pressure will be on Zimmer to coach up revamped group still spearheaded by DE Danielle Hunter and S Harrison Smith. What's more, 64-year-old Zimmer in final season of current contract.

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