MINNEAPOLIS — Two weeks from today, Minnesota Vikings players return to the team’s facility for the start of the offseason workout program. The Vikings’ new-look offensive staff will be waiting for them, after a three-month period where coaches have bandied about ideas for improving the league’s 29th-ranked offense.
In offensive line coach Tony Sparano and tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, coach Mike Zimmer hired two former offensive coordinators and head coaches who came to Minnesota with different backgrounds than Norv Turner’s Air Coryell scheme. Turner has modified his traditional system over the years, as Zimmer said last month at the NFL owners meetings, and by the last month of the 2015 season, the Vikings were managing their offensive line issues with a short passing game that bore only occasional resemblance to Turner’s time-honored scheme.
Zimmer sought Shurmur and Sparano partly for their ideas — “If they weren’t going to have input, I could have went and got a tight end and offensive line coach anyplace,” he said — but they will add different flavors to the offense more than they will revamp it.
“They’ll have a lot of input, and Norv’s been really good about listening and talking,” Zimmer said. “Now’s a good time of year to sit down and talk about different things — the way you did it, or the way we did it, and how the good things that you do help with what we did. That’s kind of what they’re doing now. We don’t want to change the offense, but it people have good ideas — which Tony and Pat both do — we want to try to merge that into the offense a little bit.”
If there’s a main plank in the Vikings’ offseason platform, it might be the belief that an improved offensive line can fix many of the team’s problems. Zimmer certainly hit on that idea last month, saying it was his top offseason priority to fix the offensive line and discussing how many areas of the Vikings’ offense —Adrian Peterson‘s output, Teddy Bridgewater‘s success in play-action and on downfield throws, etc. — can be better with a sturdier front.
We’ve yet to see a true iteration of Turner’s offense in Minnesota, largely because of how little time Bridgewater has had to look for receivers further than 10 yards downfield. The quarterback needs to be more assertive — Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have both called on Bridgewater to “let it loose” — but the Vikings also believe he can do more if he’s given time to set up.
Still, while a significant departure from the offense of the past two years probably isn’t coming, the Vikings will likely continue to evolve as they incorporate some ideas from Shurmur’s West Coast background and Sparano’s smash-mouth pedigree. The Vikings had already incorporated some ideas from quarterbacks coach Scott Turner’s past, and they’ve made some changes to accommodate Bridgewater. The coming weeks will provide a better sense of how many of Shurmur and Sparano’s ideas will wind up in the Vikings’ scheme this year. In a perfect world, they’ll wind up with a flavorful variation of what they’ve usually done, as a concoction of new ideas blends with the base of their offense.
“Norv has changed a lot,” Zimmer said. “I used to go play against him a long time ago. Over the course of the years, a lot of the no-huddle, the [shot]gun stuff, the zone read, those are all new things. Norv is not hard-headed. I’m probably more hard-headed defensively than he is offensively.”