Rick Dennison becomes Minnesota Vikings assistant after refusing COVID-19 vaccine, sources say

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EAGAN, Minn. – After refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Rick Dennison is absent as assistant coach for the Minnesota Vikings, sources told ESPN on Friday.

Dennison had been the Vikings’ offensive line coach and game coordinator for the past two seasons. Another league coach, New England Patriots co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich, will also not be with his team in 2021 in a decision related to the COVID-19 vaccine and NFL guidelines, have confirmed from league sources to ESPN.

The vaccine is mandatory for all Level 1 staff, including coaches, front office managers, equipment managers and scouts. Players are not required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but will face strict protocols during training camp and throughout the season that vaccinated players may forgo.

In a memo released by the league this summer, the NFL said any unvaccinated Level 1 staff member must provide a valid religious or medical reason for not receiving the vaccine. The loss of Level 1 status prohibits coaches from being on the pitch and in meeting rooms and having direct interactions with players.

Phil Rauscher has been promoted to assistant offensive line coach to take over Dennison’s job, sources have told ESPN. The Vikings also hired Ben Steele, who was recently hired by Auburn as a special teams analyst, to fill the position Rauscher had held since 2019.

Dennison’s departure comes at a time of transition for the Viking offensive, which will be guided by first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak. Kubiak, 34, was promoted to fill the role his father, Gary, held in Minnesota during the 2020 season.

With 27 years of experience as a coach in the NFL, Dennison was seen as a vital part of helping close the gap for young Kubiak, given his background in the call to the run and his knowledge. of the scheme the Vikings have been using since the 2019 season.

The Vikings were one of the league’s leading running teams in 2020 behind Dalvin Cook, who became the first Minnesota player to run for at least 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns in a season. Cook was responsible for 30.5% of the Vikings’ scrimmage yards, the second-highest rate in the NFL behind Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (33.8), according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

In New England, Popovich coached with the Patriots in the spring, and his field presence stood out, in part, as one of the only staff members to wear a mask during practice.

Popovich, who is estranged from longtime San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich but said in September he had never met him, was due to start his seventh season with the Patriots. In 2020, he shared offensive line duties with longtime former Youngstown state offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, who is now expected to take on more of a leading role.

The Boston Globe first reported that Popovich would not be coaching with the Patriots in 2021.

Dennison, 63, has worked with Gary Kubiak for more than three decades in Denver (1995-2009, 2015-16), Houston (2010-13) and Baltimore (2014). Prior to joining the Vikings in 2019, Dennison served as the offensive line coach / running game coordinator for the New York Jets in 2018.

Rauscher is entering his seventh season as a coach in the NFL after joining the Vikings in 2020. He coached with Dennison on the Broncos staff during the 2015 and 2016 seasons and was the Washington offensive line coach. in 2019.

Steele was on several NFL teams as a tight end from 2001 to 2007, most notably in Houston under Gary Kubiak. He started working in the NFL in 2013 as an offensive quality control coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a position he held until 2016. Steele was then promoted to tight ends coach for the Buccaneers. before moving on to the Atlanta Falcons, where he was offensive. assistant in 2019 and tight ends coach in 2020. He was hired by Auburn earlier this year.

The Vikings will hold their first practice at training camp on Wednesday.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss contributed to this report.


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