When the Vikings announced earlier this off-season that they’d hired Dom Capers to help bring a fresh set of eyes to the Vikings defense, many in Vikingsland responded with a collective “WHUT?!?”. Capers is mostly known to Vikings fans as the guy who helped the Packers only win one Super Bowl during the Aaron Rodgers era (despite being the NFC favorite each season, at least according to New Jersey mobile sportsbooks), and considering the fact that those Packers ran a 3-4 defense whereas the Vikings have run a 4-3 for decades, that collective “WHUT?!?” starts to make some sense as Capers seems, to Vikes fans, as bad at his job as he is a bad fit for what the Vikings are doing. Or rather, what the Vikings have done under head coach Mike Zimmer… and as a franchise since 1985.
In an attempt to clarify exactly why he brought Capers in, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer spoke with members of the media this week about Capers and his role with the team. Zimmer started by stating that there wouldn’t necessarily be any scheme changes under Capers, but instead…
Well, I’ll just let him explain it:
“If that’s what we had to do, but I don’t think it would be drastic, like going to a 3-4, It might just be changing some of the pressures, coverages and fronts.”
However, Zimmer did discuss his experience with scheme changes during his time as a defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells in Dallas. In 2005, after two seasons running a 4-3 the Cowboys and Zimmer switched to a 3-4. Zimmer added:
“When I was in Dallas with Parcells, we drafted Chris Canty and DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears and signed a 3-4 nose tackle. You have to commit to those things before the draft starts.”
Zimmer isn’t wrong, saying that those changes are more often about personnel than anything that the coaches want to do. However, if that’s something that the team thinks would improve their chances, they have to make that decision sooner rather than later:
“That part is always about personnel, so if we get two big 5-techniques and a nose tackle and two big outside linebackers, yeah, I could see that, but you have to commit to that before free agency and the draft.”
That might not be the worst move in the world with the Vikings looking at a lot of changes on their defensive line. Defensive end Everson Griffen recently opted out of his contract and while he is expected to return to the team, the Vikings have an uncertain future at the nose tackle position considering that Linval Joseph is on the wrong side of 30 and the wrong side of $12 million a season.
However, as Zimmer alluded to, perhaps people are reading too much into the whole 3-4 vs. 4-3 thing as Capers also has experience coaching the secondary and as a head coach, so his experience as someone from outside of the organization and continuity that this defense has had under Zimmer is worth its weight in gold just as someone who might bring some ideas or thoughts that otherwise wouldn’t have come up with the younger and older Zimmer as well as Andre Patterson all having been with the organization for years.
Should the Vikings be looking at a scheme change, it’s safe to say we’ll know that sooner than later as free agency begins on the 18th of this month and the draft comes about five weeks after that. I’d personally be shocked if that’s something that this Vikings team does as they did recently elevate Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson to the position of co-defensive coordinators (while also maintaining their previous titles as linebacker and defensive line coaches), and with that sort of continuity, it’s hard to imagine a hard switch to a 3-4, especially considering that the Vikings have run that scheme for decades.
However, perhaps that change is what this defense needs to get over the hump, as it’s clear that even with every player Zimmer could’ve ever wanted, a la 2019, this defense clearly isn’t elite enough to get them to the Super Bowl. With offensive mastermind Gary Kubiak taking over the offense from Kevin Stefanski and Dom Capers coming in to bring some new eyes to the defense, perhaps more change is on the horizon for this Vikings team.
I for one, would applaud it. So, keep an eye out for any signals that that change is coming.