Harrison Phillips: Vikings will use ‘division of labor’ to carry leadership torch vacated by Kirk Cousins

That’s still true at quarterback, as well, where Sam Darnold, a first-round pick from Phillips’ 2018 draft class now turned journeyman, brings 56 starts to the position.

It’s still to be determined after the Vikings traded up to select QB J.J. McCarthy at No. 10 overall if Darnold will hold onto the QB1 spot for all of 2024, start there and eventually cede snaps, or begin September simply as veteran depth to the Michigan product. McCarthy isn’t necessarily green. He made 28 college starts with just one loss and led his Wolverines to the College Football Playoff National Championship, but he’s not a surefire Day 1 starter coming from a program that focused on a strong run game and stellar defense.

Whoever takes the reins from Cousins, though, Phillips is confident the transition will be seamless.

“I think it’s pretty easy with the culture that Kevin (O’Connell) built here in Minnesota,” he said of rallying around Darnold or McCarthy at starter. “I do reflect back to when I came to the NFL with Josh Allen, to see his growth and how he stepped up with his leadership so early on. But also to see how that transition process can go very smoothly. I have a ton of confidence in Sam. … I have full confidence in him that he’s going to go out and win as many football games as he’s allowed to go win for us.

“And I hope that the leadership in that room — Nick Mullens comes to mind a lot about an amazing player who’s been in a lot of organizations, he’s a true professional — I think that the combination of those two players will do everything they can to lift J.J. Like I said, that’s above my pay grade about how those chips fall.”

Another reason for confidence in Minnesota’s first Cousins-less season since 2017? The defense, on which Phillips feels much more of an authority.

“We’re excited that coach (Brian) Flores is back,” he said. “We’re excited with the new additions and, shoot, if no team ever scores a point, then it makes the quarterback position a lot easier. So we’re gonna try to focus on that kind of stuff.”

The Vikings defense indeed appears to be on the rise, jumping from three straight seasons as a bottom-10 scoring unit to 13th in Flores’ first year as defensive coordinator.

On that side, Minnesota will again spread the onus of replacing a Pro Bowl talent among the many, this time using the aforementioned pass-rushing signings and the draft to cover for Hunter’s departure following a 16.5-sack season.

Like Darnold and Mullens are expected to do for McCarthy, Greenard and Van Ginkel should greatly benefit the development of Dallas Turner, the Vikings’ other 2024 first-round pick at No. 17 overall. With the Harrisons — Phillips and Smith — manning the other two levels of Minnesota’s defense, the unit is well set up to build on previous progress under Flores.

Disallowing all comers from scoring any points is an obvious exaggeration, but Phillips has plenty of reason to believe his D will help usher in the Vikings’ new era without as many growing pains.

Source: nlf.com

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