Vikings’ Brian Flores Makes Strong Statement on Defensive Overhaul

Brian Flores

Adam Glanzman/Getty Images Head coach Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins exits the field after a win over the New England Patriots on December 29, 2019.

Brian Flores didn’t give away many secrets in his Wednesday introductory press conference as the Minnesota Vikings‘ new defensive coordinator — but one answer was defining of what Flores plans to bring Minnesota.

A reporter asked Flores whether he would install a 4-3 or 3-4 base scheme with the Vikings after Minnesota struggled in its first year running the 3-4 for the first time since 1985.

“Who are we playing,” Flores replied with a smirk.

“It’s game-plan specific… but it’s 3-4,” Flores said before another smile cracked through his poker face.

There are plenty of changes to come to the Vikings defense that could see as many as nine new starters next season after ranking 31st in yards allowed and 28th in points last season. Loaded with veteran talent that largely underperformed, Flores will have to evaluate whether he can deploy the same pieces better than his predecessor Ed Donatell or if Minnesota needs to hit the rest on defense and incorporate younger talent.

And while Flores isn’t forthcoming about his plans this early in the offseason, there is one certainty; the Vikings will blitz more in 2023.

“[Cover] 0 gives people some issues. If you’re willing to give a Blitz 0 presentation and send them, they’ve got to prepare for it and have some answers for it,” Flores said in the February 15 media conference. “It becomes a cat and mouse game. Is it zero? Or is it not zero? Anyway you slice it, you got to be ready for it.”

 Brian Flores Shares Aggressive Philosophy With Kevin O’Connell

Flores’ introductory press conference fell on February 15, marking the first anniversary of when O’Connell arrived in Minnesota.

Throughout his onboarding process last offseason, he touted his hopes to install an aggressive mentality. That shined on offense this season with the Vikings finishing top 10 in points and yards, however, that initiative didn’t emanate on the defensive side of the ball.

O’Connell is confident Flores will bring that mentality to the defense and round out a team philosophy that will keep attacking opponents.

“I’m aggressive by nature. Philosophically, that’s something that I believe in,” Flores said. “Yeah, by nature I like to be aggressive. Not reckless. There’s a method to the madness. There’s a rhyme and a reason, whether it’s down and distance, field position, etcetera.”

In his three years as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Flores blitzed at least 30% of the snaps each season, including about 40% of the time in 2020 and 2021. The Vikings blitzed on 18.6% of snaps under Donatell in 2022, ranking 23rd in pressure rate.

Flores added that having versatile players who can muddy up the picture for opposing quarterbacks is key to a successful defense. He believes coaching is just as important as the player in developing more diverse roles on defense.

“I’m big on versatility. Guys being able to play multiple spots,” Flores said.” In order to do that, we’ve got to get them coached up to play those multiple spots. We’ll cast a wide net to see what we do best, and we’ll try to highlight the things our players do well.”

Vikings Veterans Outlook After Brian Flores’ First Press Conference

While there’s hope for wholesale change to the defense, Flores has hit work cut out for him with the Vikings $23 million over the cap, lacking draft capital and needing to cut bloated veteran contracts from their cap sheet.

Despite the defense’s struggles last season, Flores sees plenty of potential in the existing talent.

“I think a lot of players that are here kind of fit the bill. Smart, tough, physical. Guys who love to play. Team first. You need dirty work guys on your team,” Flores said, adding that he’s looking to add more gritty players to the roster.

“Those dirty work guys who don’t get as much media love as some of the other players. Those guys who are team-first and selfless,” Flores continued. “I’m looking for guys like that. Guys who, in a world where everybody wants to be the center of attention, those guys who want to do what’s best for the group. I think we’ve got a lot of those types of guys on our roster already.”

Minnesota must replace or re-sign defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson this offseason. Adding edge rusher talent is also a priority, especially if they decide to cut Za’Darius Smith, who offers $12.1 million in cap savings if cut before June 1.

Linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks are considered cap casualties this offseason. The Vikings could create $14.5 million in cap space by cutting both veteran linebackers — a move that is less ominous with the emergence of 2021 third-round pick Brian Asamoah.

Safety Harrison Smith will be a vital weapon for Flores and less likely to be cut over other veterans. He’ll help 2021 first-round pick Lewis Cine come along in his second season after missing the majority of last season due to a gruesome compound leg fracture.

Lastly, cornerback is the biggest puzzle for Flores, who requires fast and agile press corners to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage. All three starting cornerbacks — Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley and Chandon Sullivan — are pending free agents this offseason. Meanwhile, the Vikings don’t have many proven cornerbacks other than Cam Dantzler. Rookies Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans both suffered season-ending injuries.

Adding another cornerback through the draft or free agency will be tantamount to what Flores hopes to achieve in transforming the Vikings defense.

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