While they won’t talk about it too much, there’s no doubt the Vikings coaching staff has spent a lot of time looking at the film from the 38-7 NFC Championship Game loss to Philadelphia. And they have help in the form of former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who is now the Vikings offensive coordinator and can tell them anything they need to know.
Asked if he’s still learning from that loss, coach Mike Zimmer said: “Yeah, I learned not to do some of the things we did. We didn’t play very good. But you know that’s one of the things we have been studying all offseason, the things they hurt us with and the things we can do better.”
The things the Vikings are trying to do better started with playing a lot of situational football during OTAs and minicamps, which ended this week.
“I think we accomplished some [goals],” he said. “Part of it is trying to get better with our technique, and part of it is to talk about situational football, which we did. I thought we got better with our technique. There is still a long way to go with execution, but we were able to look at a lot of things. I thought that was one of our goals, to look at this and tweak that and how we can get better at those things.”
There will be a lot of continuity on the Vikings roster, but Zimmer is excited about the play of some young players in their second and third seasons and some newcomers.
He was asked if any rookie free agents impressed during workouts.
“A couple I have liked, Don Beebe’s son [wide receiver Chad Beebe] has looked really good,” Zimmer said. “Holton Hill, the corner from Texas, was a college free agent, and I really like him.”
When it comes to returning players, Zimmer singled out Laquon Treadwell.
“I know Treadwell was [drafted] two years ago, but I thought he had a good spring,” said Zimmer. “He’s caught the ball well, he’s been running routes well, not making mistakes. I thought he has had a good spring. [Defensive tackle] Jaleel Johnson has done a good job. [Defensive end] Tashawn Bower has done a nice job.”
Zimmer said that first-round draft pick Mike Hughes already has shown great aptitude playing as a slot defensive back in nickel packages.
“He has come in here and done a nice job,” he said. “Probably the best corner that we have drafted that has been able to move inside to nickel and understand concepts.”
Can the defense improve?
Statistically, the Vikings defense had one of the best seasons in NFL history in 2017.
The unit was ranked No. 1 overall in both points allowed per game (15.8) and yards allowed per game (275.9), something the franchise had accomplished just twice, in back-to-back seasons in 1969 and 1970.
Still, the fact that the team struggled defensively in its final six quarters, allowing 665 yards and 62 points combined to the Saints and Eagles, gives the defense a lot to improve on.
“We can be better,” Zimmer said. “We may not be statistically better, but there’s a lot of things that go into [the stats], how your offense plays, special teams, field position. But can we be better? Yes.”
Zimmer said the defense is at an advanced level.
“One thing you can kind of tell is the defensive guys have been together a long time, so they’re a little bit ahead of the offense,” he said. “They can make adjustments on the fly pretty quick when you talk to them about things. Way different than it has been in the past.”
Cousins a true weapon
While Zimmer has shown great loyalty to his former quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford and Case Keenum, there’s no doubt that Kirk Cousins is a different kind of weapon for him.
The Vikings franchise really hasn’t had a quarterback like Cousins. He has thrown for 4,000 yards in three straight seasons, something never accomplished in Minnesota and only done by 11 quarterbacks in history.
“He has done very, very well,” Zimmer said. “He is learning the offense like everybody else, and we’ll sit down at the end before we come back for training camp and talk about the things that he likes, the things he doesn’t like, and we’ll still kind of mold everything to him,” Zimmer said. “Now we put a lot of things in offensively, and I thought he grasped it good. He throws the ball very well. He has been a good leader. All of those things are good.”
When it comes to protecting Cousins, Zimmer said that offensive tackle Mike Remmers will move to guard.
“I think that’s a good position for him,” he said. “That will help us be stronger in the middle, and I think with Cousins at quarterback that is the right spot for him.”
Who will play right tackle?
“We’ll look at Rashod [Hill]. We’ll look at Brian O’Neill over there. We’ll try to keep going with flexibility with our line,” he said.
And another piece of good news for Zimmer is that running back Dalvin Cook should have no restrictions.
“I think Cook is going to be 100 percent when we get to training camp,” he said. “He looks really good in all of the drills. ... He should be good to go.”
• Pro Football Focus showed why Kirk Cousins might thrive with the Vikings: The team led the NFL in contested pass receptions last season. The Vikings brought in 53.5 percent of their attempts. The next best was the Lions at 51.6 percent. ... On the other side of the ball the Vikings defense ranked second in the league in fewest yards after catch by opposing teams at 4.47 yards, trailing only the Seahawks.
• Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson is in a good spot with the Vikings. He’ll benefit from playing with Linval Joseph, who had a run defense grade of 89.0 from PFF, fifth best in the NFL last season.
• Blanchard, Okla., receiver Jamie Nance has offers from Oklahoma, Nebraska and TCU, but after a visit here with Gophers coach P.J. Fleck he said that “Minnesota is looking elite.” That is the kind of player that Fleck is bringing in, and the Gophers have the 19th-ranked recruiting class in 2019 and fourth in the Big Ten behind Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, according to 247Sports.com.
• Reid Travis, the DeLaSalle standout who recently left Stanford as a grad transfer, is visiting Kentucky next week and is a cinch to become a Wildcat because of the great set-up they have with getting players drafted high in the NBA. Incidentally, give Travis some credit for current DeLaSalle point guard Tyrell Terry picking Stanford over the Gophers.
• Keita Bates-Diop, who many think the Timberwolves could draft at No. 20 this week, scored 17 points to go along with 12 rebounds and two blocks when Ohio State beat the Gophers 67-49 last season.
• The Gophers’ lack of point guards could be solved with the transfer of Geno Crandall from North Dakota. The two-time All-Big Sky Conference guard averaged 16.6 points, 3.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game last season and shot 41 percent on three-pointers.