The first pre-game introduction to Kevin O’Connell’s coaching era will take place inside U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The Vikings Stadium operations crew must turn off the fireworks, turn off the insanely loud music, and instead shoot plumes of blue or pink smoke as players run across the stadium.
Looks like we’re invited to a gender reveal party.
Except this will be a soccer party. One big mystery: These Vikings are led by O’Connell.
Oh, sure, we know a lot about Justin Jefferson, Harrison Smith, Kirk Cousins, Adam Thelen, Dalvin Cook, Eric Kendricks, and Daniel Hunter. But we have no concrete evidence of how O’Connell and his employees planned to hire them.
All we know for sure is that it will be different. How does it differ? O’Connell kept this closely guarded secret throughout pre-season.
The first-year coach rested his starting players almost exclusively in three pre-season games. Most teams keep their vanilla game plans for pre-season matches for competitive reasons. O’Connell didn’t even offer the taste of vanilla.
The new coach even had a message affixed to the video board throughout the training camp asking fans not to record training videos. If he was concerned about a potential stunt to such a degree, one might assume that O’Connell kept much of his scheme out of public view.
O’Connell let his guard down on Wednesday and gave the Green Bay Packers some accurate information on his team’s best player, Jefferson.
“Justin would line up in a lot of places,” O’Connell admitted. “This is not a secret.”
Everything else is decided later. Game 1 should come wrapped in a giant bow.
Cook referred to the offending coaching staff as “big brains” and said he was excited to see how it would be used in the new scheme, joking (allegedly) that he might be called up to throw a pass.
“If you throw in a pass,” he said, “it’s a check.”
check down? Come on, Dalvin.
Cook modified: “I’m going to the big one.”
This is the spirit. It might also get weird because everything is so new, new, and unknown.
Here’s what we know or think we can expect: Jefferson will be great, the defense will look different in the 3-4th alignment, fans will have divided opinions about the Cousins, and everyone will be pissed about something at some point.
Here’s what we don’t know: a lot.
Start with O’Connell himself. How does he handle offensive communication duties? How does he run a game, specifically 2 minute stops? What will he do when he’s fourth and second off the opponent’s 45-yard line when driving downhill? How does he deal with challenges? All unknown at this point.
O’Connell’s fingerprints will be more visible when attacking. The main players are back, but they’ll be running new plays within a new plot with a new player who values the insult even more than Mike Zimmer. One assumes that there will be fundamental changes in gameplay design, player usage and general philosophy.
More awesome unknowns include Cousins and whether O’Connell, the former NFL quarterback, could pull more of him through any scheme or enable the 34-year-old quarterback to take more risks. Cousins said on Wednesday that he does not expect any mythic change to turn.
“I think I will continue to play the center the way I played,” he said.
The good news is that the Vikings defense certainly won’t play out the way it did last season. It’s hard to understand when things are getting worse.
Ed Donatell’s 3-4 scheme is a new game looking even more imposing with Hunter returning from injury to harass his quarterbacks along with his tag team partner and best new bud Zadarius Smith.
Curiosity factor is higher for defense than for attack because the scheme is a drastic departure from Zimmer’s defense, and there are also more new faces in personnel.
This season’s opening prediction is at its highest since Zimmer’s first game, or when Brett Favre debuted in purple. The sweeping changes lead to unknowns, and like any surprise is revealed, you just want to know the answer.
Sunday will provide more clarity about Operation O’Connell. His record also will not be 0-0.