Maybe the most stoic person the Vikings have on their coaching staff, defensive coordinator Brian Flores always encourages his players to have fun. So much so that he recently appointed rookie cornerback NaJee Thompson as the defense’s celebration coordinator.
As a result, the Vikings have started carving out a few minutes each week to discuss potential defensive celebrations. They got to bust out a couple of them on Monday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers, performing a variation of “The Limbo” using cornerback Akayleb Evans as the bar, then the classic “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck” with safety Josh Metellus taking center stage.
It raises the question: What else do the Vikings have in store?
“We’ll see what they come up with next week,” Flores said. “We’ve got to earn the right to do those things.”
That isn’t lost on the Vikings as they prepare to play the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field. They have more defensive celebrations planned. Now they have to force turnovers to unveil them.
“It’s almost like a test for us,” Metellus said. “If we say we want to do this dance, we have to have somebody show up and make a play so we can get there.”
The concept of defensive celebrations has only recently become a thing. After decades of offensive players hamming it up for the cameras, defensive players have started taking matters into their own hands. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for a defensive player to race toward the end zone after forcing a turnover, and more often than not, there’s a full convoy of teammates behind him.
“The opportunities on the defensive side don’t come too often,” Metellus said. “You make a play, and it deserves to be celebrated.”
That’s exactly what the Vikings did on Monday Night Football. After a forced fumble by veteran safety Harrison Smith, the defense assembled in the end zone with Evans being held up horizontally by a couple of teammates, with everybody else walking underneath him.
“I have mixed feelings on it because I’m usually so tired and these guys get an interception or something and they just take off (for) 50 yards,” defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said. “I’ve got to make a business decision, like, ‘Do I really want to run all the way down there and be cooked?’”
Unfortunately for Phillips, he didn’t have a choice on Monday, since he had been designated to hold up Evans with the help of linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.
“I had to get my (expletive) down there to do it,” Phillips said with a laugh. “It was a lot.”
Not long after that, Metellus recovered a fumble, then with his teammates seated in a circle, he tagged pass rusher Pat Jones II and took off running around. Though the turnover call was reversed upon further review, the defensive celebration couldn’t be taken back.
“I would say having NaJee be our celebration coordinator definitely made us step up our game,” Metellus said. “He has a plan for us every week and it’s going to be a big part of what we do moving forward.”
As for Flores, he prefers to watch from the sidelines, letting his defensive players have the spotlight.
“I’m not the big jump-around-smiley guy,” Flores said. “I’m celebrating with them in my own way when those good things happen.”
For the second straight day, left guard Ezra Cleveland (foot) was a limited participant in practice. Tight end T.J. Hockenson (foot) and receiver Jalen Nailor (hamstring) were also limited participants, while linebacker Brian Asamoah (ankle) did not practice at all.
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