Last year Vikings coach Mike Zimmer added Pat Shurmur as a tight ends coach and Tony Sparano as an offensive line coach, giving the Vikings a lot of NFL head coaching experience on their staff.
But the team lost a chunk of head coaching experience during the season when offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned. Shurmur took over the coordinator position on an interim basis and now will retain that job, while Zimmer also added two new coaches in recent weeks to round out his staff.
Zimmer talked about what he expects from his new coaches.
“Well, we hired Clancy Barone as the tight ends coach, and Clancy, he’s had a long history of coaching the offensive line and the tight ends with the Denver Broncos,” he said. “That’s where he came from, and he won the Super Bowl with them last year. He’s a very energetic coach, very technique-oriented. That should be a good mix.
“Then we hired Kennedy Polamalu, who is the uncle of [former Steelers star safety] Troy Polamalu, but Kennedy used to coach the running backs at Jacksonville for a number of years. He’s coached at USC, UCLA, and he’s very, very knowledgeable guy and I think he’ll fit in great, as well.”
With the hiring of Barone and Polamalu, Zimmer is clearly trying to improve the run game, which struggled mightily in 2016, with or without star Adrian Peterson available.
“We’ve been looking at all of the running game from this past season and we’re going to have to make some changes in the offensive line, obviously,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to have to try to get some more space to run the football. We had way too many runs that ended up being hit at the line of scrimmage or within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage. We’re going to look at that first.
“We’ve gone through all of our runs and we’re trying to eliminate a lot of the runs that we’re not good at, and then start trying to perfect the things and maybe pare it down a bit from where we were.”
Looking for solutions
When Zimmer looks at his team he sees a solid defensive squad, and with good reason. The Vikings finished third in the league total defense at 314.9 yards per game this season.
The Vikings passing offense was not great this season, but it wasn’t all that bad either, finishing 18th in the NFL in passing with 239.8 yards per game and sixth in passer rating at 97.7 with 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
But the running game was atrocious, finishing dead last in the league with 75.3 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry. And those numbers actually improved a bit as the season went on. So while Zimmer and the coaches are studying the film, he was asked if he thinks the team’s personnel from last year can improve enough to turn the running game around.
“Well, some of the guys are under contract and some of them have the opportunity to go elsewhere,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to try to look everywhere to improve, honestly. We didn’t do a good enough job there this year, regardless of the injury situation or not. We’re looking to have a lot of competition there and try to get better. And if some of those guys aren’t with us right now then we’re going to look elsewhere.”
Zimmer does believe that Peterson, the 2012 NFL MVP, could also be a big help to the rushing game if he were to have a full, healthy season. But he also knows there’s a lot in the way of the Vikings star coming back for the 2017 season.
“I think he can [play], yes, and I believe that he wants to come back,” Zimmer said. “I think we’d like to have him back. Obviously, he has a big contract coming up and I don’t deal with any of that, but I do think Adrian has a number of years left in him. He has done tremendous things for the Vikings, and we hope to get him back and we’ll just see how that goes.”
Offense or best player?
When asked if he expects the Vikings to target offensive players in the draft, Zimmer weighed two options.
“I do believe this will be an offensive draft,” he said. “Defensively, we’re in pretty good position for most situations, but as it comes down closer to the draft — and I go to the Senior Bowl [it was held Saturday in Mobile, Ala.], so we’ll find out a little bit more this week on where the strengths of the draft are and where we can go from there.
“But saying that, I’m still a believer and I know Rick [Spielman] is, too, at taking the best available player. So if some defensive guys jump up in there, you know when we’re picking, I think we’ll pull the trigger on them. We do have free agency to try to fill some of our holes, and we’re hoping we get a couple players there, as well.”
Yes, the Vikings’ 5-0 start made them look like one of the best teams in the NFL, but their glaring weaknesses eventually toppled their season. Now it will be up to Zimmer and Spielman to find answers in the running game and offensive line before next season.
• It’s interesting that the Gophers men’s basketball team offered six local players in the 2017 class and none of them chose to play for Richard Pitino. Now they have five scholarships in the 2018 class, and landing Daniel Oturu from Cretin-Derham Hall this past week is a big deal. That 2018 class also features Race Thompson of Armstrong and Tre Jones of Apple Valley. And looking ahead to 2019, maybe one of the top-rated state high school players in recent years is Matthew Hurt out of Rochester John Marshall, who has already been offered by the U and whose brother, Michael, plays for the Gophers.
• Speaking of Gophers recruiting, four-star signee Isaiah Washington, who is playing at St. Raymond High School in New York City and is ranked as the 62nd-best player in the country by Rivals.com, recently had Knicks star Carmelo Anthony come to his game after Washington invited him. Washington finished with a triple-double — 29 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists — and scored 15 points in the final eight minutes as his squad beat Bishop Loughlin 85-84.
• Former Gophers Ra’Shede Hageman and De’Vondre Campbell with the Atlanta Falcons, Eric Murray with the Kansas City Chiefs and Damien Wilson with the Dallas Cowboys made Jerry Kill and his staff look good in the NFL playoffs. Now Hageman and Campbell will appear in the Super Bowl next week. As for future pros, Damarius Travis has an opportunity to play in the NFL. He was the only Gophers player at the Senior Bowl, making six tackles as the South beat the North 16-15 Saturday.
• The Vikings are considered the No. 2 favorite in the NFC North to reach the Super Bowl next season as Las Vegas has them going off at +3,300. The Packers, not surprisingly, are the favorite at +1,000.
• The NHL’s list of its 100 greatest players revealed Friday included both the GM (Bobby Clarke) and coach (Bob Gainey) of the 1990-91 North Stars team that reached the Stanley Cup Final, as well as that team’s star, Mike Modano.
Sid Hartman can be heard Monday and Friday on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: email@example.com