Zone Coverage: 5 offseason questions about the Vikings' offense

Nik Edlund of Zone Coverage digs into some important questions.
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Dalvin Cook

The Minnesota Vikings should finally get to begin team activities soon. The NFL is allowing coaching staffs to return to team facilities and players may not be far behind. As the Vikings begin preparations for the 2020 season there are questions that surround different facets of the offense. Here are five that will be answered by the time the 2020 regular season begins.

This is arguably the biggest question surrounding the Vikings offense. Dalvin Cook is in a contract year and Minnesota has yet to offer him an extension. It can be argued that running back is a position with a surplus of talented players in the league, and it’s unwise to overspend on one. The Vikings also have to factor in Cook’s injury history when making this decision as he’s only started 28 games in three seasons and not once played in all 16 games in a single year.

WILL DALVIN COOK GET AN EXTENSION PRIOR TO THE START OF THE SEASON?

This is arguably the biggest question surrounding the Vikings offense. Dalvin Cook is in a contract year and Minnesota has yet to offer him an extension. It can be argued that running back is a position with a surplus of talented players in the league, and it’s unwise to overspend on one. The Vikings also have to factor in Cook’s injury history when making this decision as he’s only started 28 games in three seasons and not once played in all 16 games in a single year.

Those issues are noteworthy, but so is the dynamic ability that Cook brings to the Vikings offense. He’s a true three-down back, who is a major asset in the passing game. Cook runs with great power and speed. He can pick up the tough yards up the middle or power his way to a score on the goal line. At the same time, he possesses the explosive power to burst through a hole and scamper for an 80-yard touchdown. He’s a rare breed of player and one that the Vikings have already proven they can ride to victories.

As of now, it doesn’t appear a contract extension is close. It also doesn’t appear that Cook is going to hold out. That’s good news, but these things can turn ugly. If Cook’s agent wants him to hold out, he could heed that advice. That would be detrimental to the Vikings chances in 2020. Not only would they be without their star back and a key component of their offense, but the distraction it would cause would certainly impact the overall morale of the team. Hopefully an agreement can be reached before the games start to count, and the Vikings can again ride their dynamic back to success.

The Vikings traded to the Bills last March and used the first-round pick they got in that deal to take this explosive weapon from LSU. Justin Jefferson has great size and speed and is coming off a season where he had an eye-popping 18 touchdowns. The kid is electric and will be a great addition to the Vikings offense as he can work out of the slot or on the outside.

WILL JUSTIN JEFFERSON BE READY TO MAKE AN IMPACT IN WEEK 1?

The Vikings traded Stefon Diggs to the Bills last March and used the first-round pick they got in that deal to take this explosive weapon from LSU. Justin Jefferson has great size and speed and is coming off a season where he had an eye-popping 18 touchdowns. The kid is electric and will be a great addition to the Vikings offense as he can work out of the slot or on the outside.

The Vikings do need to pump the brakes on the excitement surrounding this young player. First of all, it often takes young receivers a season to acclimate to the speed of the NFL game. He’ll also be asked to run much more complex routes than he did in college, and that’ll take time. With OTAs and mini-camps being lost due to COVID-19 he’s already running behind. The lost reps will set Jefferson back, and that could push him down the depth chart early. It’s entirely possible he starts the season as the fourth receiver on the Vikings. That is a worst case scenario, but we will all have a better idea of his progress once the preseason kicks off and we can see this talented young pass catcher in some exhibition games.

The Vikings guard position this year is one of the weakest on the entire team. As of right now the frontrunners to start are and . That is a very risky duo. First of all, Elflein has been in a downward spiral since his rookie season. The move to guard was expected to do him good, but he continued to struggle. Pass protection has been his issue, as he’s routinely been manhandled by opposing defensive tackles. The second issue is Samia. If the second-year player does end up starting, he lacks experience, and it will basically be like having a rookie take over the job. Samia only appeared in one game last year, and while he played well it was a meaningless game that was basically a glorified scrimmage. Samia has a huge frame and should be able to fend off beefy interior defensive linemen who come crashing down on him, but the fact he couldn’t climb the depth chart a season ago is very concerning.

WHO WILL BE THE VIKINGS STARTING GUARDS?

The Vikings guard position this year is one of the weakest on the entire team. As of right now the frontrunners to start are Pat Elflein and Dru Samia. That is a very risky duo. First of all, Elflein has been in a downward spiral since his rookie season. The move to guard was expected to do him good, but he continued to struggle. Pass protection has been his issue, as he’s routinely been manhandled by opposing defensive tackles. The second issue is Samia. If the second-year player does end up starting, he lacks experience, and it will basically be like having a rookie take over the job. Samia only appeared in one game last year, and while he played well it was a meaningless game that was basically a glorified scrimmage. Samia has a huge frame and should be able to fend off beefy interior defensive linemen who come crashing down on him, but the fact he couldn’t climb the depth chart a season ago is very concerning.

While Samia and Elflein are the favorites they are by no means a lock to start. The Vikings could choose to move Riley Reiff inside, could convert Oli Udoh to guard, or even go with a veteran like Dakota Dozier. Eyes will be watching this position closely in the preseason and paying close attention to who is rolling with the ones in practice and even the twos. This should be a wide-open competition in camp, and perhaps by the end of it the Vikings and their fans will feel much better about this position as the season looms on the horizon.

CAN EZRA CLEVELAND EARN THE STARTING LEFT TACKLE JOB?

The Vikings needed a new left tackle in the 2020 NFL Draft and were able to wait until the second round where they found Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland waiting for them. They took the big man to be their left tackle of the future without hesitation. Cleveland is an exciting addition to the Vikings offensive line. He’s an extremely athletic tackle who can get out of his stance in a hurry and has the ability to get to the second level quickly. He’s seen as a perfect fit for Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme.

While he looks like a perfect fit on paper, there are questions about his overall strength. In college, Cleveland’s biggest issue was anchoring and fending off pass rushers. There are concerns this is an area that will need to be improved before he is given extended snaps in the NFL. Hopefully he’s hit the weights hard since being drafted and has worked on getting stronger. We’ll get an idea of how soon Cleveland could see the field in 2020 after watching him in the preseason. Otherwise, it’s a safe bet he’ll get slowly worked in during games and eventually become a starter later in the season if Reiff struggles.

WILL THE VIKINGS OFFENSE LOOK DIFFERENT UNDER GARY KUBIAK?

Gary Kubiak officially takes over as the Vikings offensive coordinator this season. While he was a strong influence to what Kevin Stefanski ran a season ago, there is a chance the Vikings offense could look a little bit different with Kubiak calling the plays. Kubiak loves to run the football, and the Vikings could see even more work for Cook and Alexander Mattison in 2020. Kubiak also likes to utilize the outside stretch run and isn’t afraid to run misdirection plays. He will use multiple formations, so Vikings fans should get used to seeing two tight ends or two running backs on the field. Kubiak also likes to roll his quarterback out on bootlegs, which Kirk Cousins excels at.

Looking at those staples of the Kubiak offense listed above, that sounds a lot like the offense the Vikings ran a season ago. Sure, there will be a few new looks and wrinkles added, especially with some of the new personnel the Vikings added through the draft. But for the most part, things should look quite similar. The preseason will give us a better idea of how Kubiak’s offense will look in 2020, but Vikings fans shouldn’t expect any drastic changes.

This story first appeared at Zone Coverage and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

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