New players settling in with Vikings ahead of Week 1

The first game of the NFL’s regular season means an opportunity to see familiar faces back on the field for the Minnesota Vikings.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook, wide receivers Adam Theilen, defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes are familiar names to Vikings fans, and by now these players know the offense and defense like the back of their hand.

But what about the assimilation of new players into the fold?

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Besides rookies like tight end Brandon Dillon, several players have joined Minnesota in the past week: Punter Britton Colquitt, wide receiver Josh Doctson and cornerback Mark Fields.

Dillon, making the jump from NAIA Marian to the NFL, had five catches in Minnesota’s preseason finale, but he made his mark on the Vikings’ staff well before that.

“He’s come out here and been able to transfer stuff from the meeting room out here. We’re just looking for him to come out here and continue to grow,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “Everything we asked of him to do, he’s done. He’s kind of passed those tests. Again, he earned that job. But again, it goes back to what he did out on these practice fields. I think he did a nice job.”

Doctson, a former first-round pick, fell out of favor in Washington, where he had 79 catches and eight touchdowns over the last two seasons. He has a familiarity with Cousins, his quarterback in Washinigton when he had 35 catches for 502 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, but that doesn’t mean Doctson will have an immediate impact when the Vikings host Atlanta. Or that he’ll even be on the field.

“That’s a fluid situation,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.

Stefanski noted that Doctson is doing all the right things so far – doing extra work with wide receiver coach Drew Petzing, doing the little things on the field and “working hard.”

“Josh has played in this league for a few years there, so we’ll see what we have, see what he can retain and then we’ll go,” Stefanski said.

“Sometimes it clicks for players in certain locations and sometimes it doesn’t. Josh in particular, again, a guy with a skillset that we’re intrigued by. Add him to the mix and see where we go.”

Fields, acquired from Kansas City, is in a familiar situation, but on the other side of the ball.

“Since he’s been in here he’s been in sort of a crash course of what to do and those types of deals, but he’s done a good job,” Edwards said.

As a punter, Colquitt has less to learn. And as a veteran in his 10th year in the NFL there’s also less concern.

But there is a one job he does which usually requires a lot of practice and work with others – being the holder on extra points.

Special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf isn’t worried, though. That experience, Maalouf says, helps.

“He’s done it for so long and he’s done it for different guys,” Maalouf said. “I think the thing that he’s been pleasantly surprised with is Austin (Cutting), our long snapper, and how accurate he’s been. He’s just got a really good natural feel to it and I think that he’s done it for so long that you can’t replace those reps.”

Maalouf said Colquitt also brings something else to the Vikings – a good personality which has helped lighten the mood.

“I think, if anything, Britton’s personality brings out some liveliness in everybody. I think it’s a good thing. It’s a positive,” Maalouf explained. “He adds a little bit of a relaxed nature that maybe wasn’t here with the other guys that we’ve had. I think that’s a plus. It kind of keeps everybody even-keeled. We have fun. We’re with these guys more than we are with our own families. When you can laugh and enjoy being around each other, that’s a huge positive.”

Defending Julio

The Vikings’ secondary will be tested quickly in 2019, lining up against Julio Jones, one of the top receivers in the NFL. If history means anything, though, that won’t be too big of an issue.

In four career games against Minnesota, Jones has just 13 catches (on 21 targets) for 162 yards with no touchdowns. The last time these two teams met – Dec. 3, 2017 in Atlanta – Jones had just two catches on six targets for 24 yards.

Edwards in part points to the Vikings’ pass rush for their ability to limit Jones.

“I think it’s a combination of things. We always talk about pass rush and coverage going together,” Edwards said. “I think that’s a key ingredient to what we want to do.”

Jones, who had 113 catches for 1,677 yards in 2018, isn’t Atlanta’s only receiving weapon, however. Mohamed Sanu had 68 receptions for 838 yards last year and rising youngster Calvin Ridley had 64 for 821 to go with a team-high 10 touchdowns.

“All three of those guys can really run, good route runners,” Edwards noted. “Sanu inside is very good at the slot, very crafty as far as his route-running inside. … Julio and Ridley, both on the outside, a lot of speed and a lot of athleticism to go up and catch the ball. We’ve got to do a good job of making sure we’re all on the same page and that we’re able to transfer technique and fundamentals to out there covering those guys throughout the different packages that we’ll be in.”

Choices at punt returner

Maalouf said the Vikings will have different punt returners depending on the area of the field and game situation. Minnesota’s unofficial depth chart lists Ameer Abdullah as the No. 1 returner with Chad Beebe No. 2. Bisi Johnson would be the third option.

“For me, it’s not unusual (having different returners for areas on the field),” Maalouf said. “Hopefully you graduate to a position where maybe one guy does the majority of it but for now, I think it’s important we take advantage of all the talent that we have and get those guys on the field depending on the situation.”

Maalouf said it’s likely all three will get a chance to return on Sunday, again with the caveat of game situations.

One game at a time

Stefanski was asked about Kirk Cousins’ remark that he’s a “.500 quarterback” earlier this year.

Stefanski did his best coachspeak in deflecting.

“I think Kirk (Cousins) is obviously a self-aware player but I will tell you his focus, our focus is on Sunday,” Stefanski said. “It’s Game 1 and it’s the first game and it counts for one. We’re looking really hard to narrow our focus, if you will, on this game and get ready for a really good defense coming in here.”