Matthew Coller is a published author and football writer who covers the Vikings. He also writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, in addition to hosting a livestream on the Bring Me The News YouTube and Facebook pages every Tuesday. You can find more of his work at Purple Insider.
The Minnesota Vikings’ start to training camp isn’t quite the Titanic but it’s definitely a ship taking on water.
Quick recap: Just days before camp, Vikings offensive line coach Rick Dennison was reassigned to an advisory role because he refused to be vaccinated. Per NFL protocols, that meant he couldn’t be around the players, so the team bumped up assistant coach Phil Rauscher into Dennison’s role.
Less than seven practices into camp, quarterbacks Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond and Nate Stanley were all forced to sit out due to Mond testing positive for COVID and Cousins and Stanley having close contact with the rookie QB. Head coach Mike Zimmer reacted by making it very clear he was upset with his unvaccinated players.
Speaking of which, the Washington Post reported the Vikings have the lowest vaccination rate in the NFL and Zimmer commented that some players will likely never get vaccinated no matter the circumstances.
On Tuesday, the Vikings cut Jeff Gladney after he was indicted on felony domestic assault charges.
None of this is to mention the fact that the Vikings’ first-round pick Christian Darrisaw -- the projected starter at left tackle -- has barely practiced because of injury. Michael Pierce and Dede Westbrook have also been limited and Wyatt Davis has missed several days of practice. The Vikings are presently rotating right guard between one veteran who struggled last year as a starter and another who’s never played the position before.
Then Justin Jefferson went down with a sprained AC joint and Adam Thielen missed Saturday's practice at U.S. Bank Stadium after getting banged up.
Other than hitting that iceberg, how was the boat ride?
The question as it pertains to the early camp drama is: How much of it will matter?
We can start with the vaccines because everyone really, really enjoys talking about vaccines.
It’s impossible to predict into the future whether the Vikings will lose their quarterback or other numerous key players to COVID issues but with a more communicable Delta variant floating around the universe these days, it seems more and more likely that unvaccinated players will at least come in contact with it. And even if they don’t, there’s a chance of having a close contact issue, as Cousins had by being in the same room as Mond.
There’s no amount of protocols that can give the Vikings a 100% chance at a COVID-less season. Zimmer expressed last week that his fear was losing key players before a game that matters toward playoff position.
With no easy solution aside from players getting vaccinated, the Vikings will just have to hold their breath.
There’s another conversation here: Whether Zimmer’s strong pro-vax stance will be problematic within the team. Anthony Barr said this week that he believes Zimmer simply wants his players on the field -- and that’s true, but he’s also pointed the finger strongly at players who have chosen not to be vaccinated.
It can’t be a comfortable situation when Cousins returns to practice under the coach who has made the world very aware of how frustrated he is by Cousins’s personal decision.
Not that they were ever going on sunset walks near the beach anyway but the relationship between the coach and QB seems… well…kind of important. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio tweeted that he believes Cousins is playing out his final year in Minnesota after this divide. The last time Cousins played out his final year somewhere, his team went 7-9.
On the matter of Gladney, it seems the Vikings protected themselves from his cut making a big difference by signing veteran Bashaud Breeland. But consider how many cornerbacks got dinged up last year. If there are injuries in the secondary, it can get pretty thin pretty quick. Not having Gladney isn’t devastating by any means. It does put pressure on them to potentially revamp the DB unit after this year though.
And then we have the offensive line. Ah, yes, the offensive line. The one that has routinely ranked in the bottom third of the league in pass blocking during the Zimmer era and driven fans crazy as they watched the Packers and Bears blow up plays in the backfield with their monster defensive lines.
The good news here is that current left tackle Rashod Hill is experienced. He played over 700 snaps in 2017. But the tackle position hasn’t really been the problem in recent years, it’s been the interior. Now the Vikings are moving players’ positions again and hoping something sticks.
It’s questionable why they didn’t add one more veteran player to the mix aside from trading for Mason Cole and bringing back Dakota Dozier. Instead they hoped that Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis would be the answer.
The reality of the Vikings’ rough start to camp is that all of these things could resolve themselves. If nobody gets COVID, the cornerbacks stay healthy and the offensive line comes together, everything could get right back on track. But this is a team that generally needs all cylinders firing at once in order to get where they want to go.
What are the chances that none of the holes in the side of the boat end up causing it to sink?
The Vikings may be hoping that the one thing that can patch up all problems is Mike Zimmer’s defense. They stacked it up for the proven head coach, whose defenses have ranked in the top five in either points or yards against every year except 2014 and 2020.
Back in 2017, the Vikings lost their QB and star running back to injury and trucked their way via Zim’s defense and a little magic to the NFC Championship game. Whether Zim can keep it all together again... well, you’ve gotta watch until the end of the movie to find out.