It seems that everyone around the Vikings practice facility is excited for this season to get going, not only because it feels like this team could be the best squad in the NFL, but also because of how the season ended at Philadelphia in January.
Yes, new Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who came over after being the quarterbacks coach for that Eagles squad, will contribute a great deal to the offense. But just as important is what he will offer to coach Mike Zimmer and his staff when it comes to determining what happened in that lopsided 38-7 loss in the NFC Championship Game that kept the Purple from getting to the Super Bowl last season.
Zimmer was asked if the Saints and the Eagles figured out something about the Vikings defense in the final six quarters of the playoffs, because during the regular season the Vikings gave up just 3.4 points per quarter, compared to 10.3 in those final six.
“First of all, the defense was good against New Orleans. It was 17-0 at halftime and we had a bunch of three-and-outs. We turned the ball over. We had a punt blocked and threw an interception down inside there. Drew Brees is going to make some plays,” Zimmer said. “Philadelphia did a nice job of scheming us, matter of fact I [have visited] with DeFilippo and going through a lot of the plays that Philadelphia ran, just to kind of talk to him about things we could have done better. They made a bunch of plays. It happens.”
Zimmer talked about what DeFilippo has shown the staff about that offensive scheme.
“It was a little different kind of deal that they were running, more like the college game. It was good to sit in there and talk to him about some of their reads and tendencies and calls and things of how they manage their offense,” Zimmer said. “It was good. They didn’t want [safety] Harrison Smith to ruin the game and they were able to keep him out of it as much as they could.”
Offensive line revamped
One of the areas where the Vikings will adjust is on the offensive line, and Zimmer said they are expecting big things out of guard Nick Easton, who fractured his ankle in the second-to-last game of the regular season and was really missed in the playoffs.
“I just happened to be watching some tape last night when I was sitting at home and I happened to notice Easton getting on guys and knocking them off the ball and moving them,” Zimmer said. “I didn’t realize we probably missed him as much as we did, but we did. He’s out there working hard. I walked by the offensive line while they were doing some drills today and I was actually very impressed, the athleticism that we have with that group.”
Zimmer said that he has faith in the in Tony Sparano, who is entering his third season as offensive line coach. And while the Vikings lost Joe Berger to retirement, Zimmer sees a lot of potential for this group.
“We’re going to be OK,” he said “We have some depth. Rashod Hill did some good things, he looks quicker to me. We have to keep getting him to continue to use his quickness because he has great size. I think we’ve got a lot of good guys there, good options.”
Excited for new draft class
Meanwhile, the Vikings brought their eight new draft picks into rookie minicamp this weekend and Zimmer said that when he considers who was drafted against the team’s predraft rankings, he thinks the team got a good collection of players, including one that General Manager Rick Spielman had really targeted.
“You get a certain bunch of guys that you like and then you try to figure out which ones are going to be there and hope that they are,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes Rick does a good job of moving up and down on the board to try and find the guys we like, but you know we thought that [first-round pick] Mike Hughes had an opportunity to be there and we thought there was four or five other guys that we would have picked at that spot.
“As it went down there was a big run on offensive linemen, especially in the second round at the top of the second, but Brian O’Neill was a guy that we liked a lot as an offensive tackle. We got out of the third and in the fourth round, Jalyn Holmes was a guy that we looked at a lot”
When it comes to questions about Hughes’ character, Zimmer said the team did their due diligence and that everyone makes mistakes.
“I think he got caught up in a situation one time and that really was all that happened,” Zimmer said. “He’s a very, ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ kind of kid. We met with him twice and then talked to him on the phone quite a few times. We felt very comfortable with him and we researched everything.”
The 2017 draft produced two immediate starters in center Pat Elflein and running back Dalvin Cook. Does Zimmer think this 2018 class has a lot to live up to?
“I hope this one turns out that good. You never know until you get them in here and practicing,” he said. “But we have a really good coaching staff, guys who will come in here and work real hard at getting guys better. We spent a lot of time [with the rookies] last year, more than we ever have, and we’ll do that again this year.”
• Even with Jamal Crawford opting out of the final year of his contract, the Timberwolves are currently slated to pay nine players $109 million next season, which is already over the expected NBA salary cap. That’s before you consider that the team will try to match certain offers for forward Nemanja Bjelica while also trying to improve their wing play off the bench. The last time the Wolves were over the cap was in 2015-16, but that was by just $650,000. The luxury tax tab for next season could be well over $10 million.
• The Wolves’ public relations and marketing teams won gold in the entertainment category at the 2018 North America SABRE awards for branding, reputation and engagement.
• Vikings running back Latavius Murray really does a lot of charity work. He has already traveled to Haiti in the offseason with former Raiders teammate Derek Carr to spend time with children and locals and is now on an NFL-USO tour.
• NFL.com ranked the Vikings at No. 5 in the league following the draft, but they wrote that every team ranked from 1 to 10 looks to have a real shot at the Super Bowl this year.
• Twins infield prospect Royce Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick last year, is dominating at Class A Cedar Rapids. He entered Saturday hitting .353 with a homer, 11 RBI, 11 runs and eight stolen bases in 17 games.
• Also at Cedar Rapids is outfielder Alex Kirilloff, the No. 15 overall pick in 2016. He spent last season rehabbing from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. He was hitting .276 with four homers, eight doubles and 23 RBI in 21 games.
• Former Gophers wideout Eric Decker continues to make the rounds as an NFL free agent. There’s no doubt the 31-year-old Decker, who played in all 16 games and helped the Titans reach the playoffs last year with 54 receptions for 563 yards, will get a deal soon.