Jefferson, Vikings approve O’Connell changes, accessibility

Justin Jefferson was beginning his off-season training plan in Miami as the Vikings finalized their coaching staff, building a group under new coach Kevin O’Connell who will lead the team through the final years of the rookie contract. of the receiver.

There is perhaps no player whose opinion matters more to the Vikings than that of the 22-year-old record holder, who admitted on Tuesday he had been keeping tabs on extravagant offers from Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs and Tyreek Hill that reset the receiver market. this offseason.

So what was Jefferson looking for with a new team?

“Well, firstly, is he an attacking or defensive coach – is he more on my side or more on the defensive side? And secondly, is he able to connect with his players?” Jefferson said Tuesday. “Does he have that relationship with his players where you can come up and talk to him anytime and really be that coach that you can call on anytime? Certainly looking at those two things.”

The two-time Pro Bowler spoke enthusiastically about emulating the role Cooper Kupp had in the Rams offense under O’Connell, who became the Vikings’ coach after winning Super Bowl LVI as the Rams’ offensive coordinator . He recounted conversations he had with Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — whom Jefferson followed at LSU — about O’Connell’s approach. And he became the latest player to project hope that the Vikings’ big offseason changes will turn an average team into a contender.

“Honestly, it feels good – just for him to come in and be a laid-back coach ready to change the whole program and get us back on that winning stage,” Jefferson said. “We’re all excited. We’ve seen so many new faces here, so many new coaches. We have so much potential in this team. We’re all ready to get this thing going again.”

The Vikings were all smiles during the first two days of O’Connell’s first offseason schedule, speaking optimistically about how a new culture could lead to changes in everything from how players connect with their coaches to increased freedom for Kirk Cousins ​​at the line of scrimmage and Jefferson and Adam Thielen on their runs.

For all of this to work, they’ll need to win more games this fall under O’Connell than they did in 2020 and 2021, when they finished one game out of the playoffs each year. At first, though, returning players and new free agents seem hopeful about the changes.

“I’m used to this type of coaching change,” said guard Chris Reed, who will play for his fifth team this year after signing a two-year contract with the Vikings. “I had coaching changes in Jacksonville. Miami was a new coaching staff, Carolina was a coaching staff. [change], so I’ve seen it all. I saw old school thinking, more new school. I just think it’s an environment that promotes player takeover and growth, versus a fear-driven system. I think that will be the key to getting this team to where it needs to go and where it wants to go.”

O’Connell spoke with many key Vikings players on the phone during the offseason, and safety Harrison Smith said he spoke with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell “several times” over the past few months. As the Vikings began their offseason program on Monday, the players said, O’Connell focused on a theme that should come as no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to him this offseason.

“It was ‘Our team, our ways, our commitment,'” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Everyone being on the same page at the same time at all times. There’s no ‘I’ or ‘me’ in this building; it’s ours. That’s what it’s about. act, to be a collective unit.”

The Vikings are still nearly five months away from their first significant game under O’Connell, and they haven’t seen their full schedule yet. It would therefore seem difficult at this stage to guarantee that the changes in culture will produce a significant difference on the ground.

But in O’Connell’s first two days in front of Vikings players, excitement over the changes has some of the team’s veterans talking boldly about what this team could achieve if it reached its full potential. .

“I think ‘KO’ came in and addressed [the roster] right away, bringing ‘Z’ [linebacker Za’Darius Smith]bringing in a few defensive backs,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “We still have things to settle. [We’re] bring in offensive linemen [such as Reed and Jesse Davis] so that we can have depth. Just having those good plays to win, I think we’re right there on the doorstep. We can go win the Super Bowl with this team we have. Like I said, it’s not just about me reaching out and saying it, we just have to put the hard work into it.”

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