The Vikings’ starting offense likely will play one half of football against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
That gives them one more chance to work on the new system being put in by offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, assistant head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive line coach Rick Dennison.
Coach Mike Zimmer said he likes what he is seeing from that first unit so far.
But there’s no doubt that hiring Stefanski as a first-time coordinator and then bringing in Kubiak — one of the most respected names in football — is a unique situation.
How does Zimmer think Kubiak is doing?
“He has worked out great. Him and Kevin have worked out really well together,” Zimmer said. “The communication between those two guys on the sideline is outstanding. I’m ecstatic over how it’s going.”
Does he think Stefanski is getting into a good rhythm calling plays?
“They’re all helping, they’re all chiming in on different plays and different things to help the players play better,” Zimmer said. “That is really what we’re trying to do.”
Just as important as the collaboration of Kubiak and Stefanski is the blocking scheme being installed by Dennison.
In their first preseason game, a 34-25 victory over New Orleans, the Vikings ran for 213 yards on 27 carries, a 7.9-yards-per-carry average. Against Seattle on Sunday, a 25-19 win, they had 137 yards rushing on 39 carries, a 3.5 average.
The line also hasn’t given up a sack in two games.
“[Dennison] is a really good teacher, a good person, you know the players seem to really like him,” Zimmer said. “They have a mentality among that offensive line like they want to be really good. That has been a good thing.
“Like I said, I feel like we’re helping them with the things we’re doing offensively, moving the quarterback out of the pocket, giving them different looks and reads, so the defense doesn’t know where he’s at all the time.”
Does Zimmer think Dennison’s system will allow quarterback Kirk Cousins to get out of the pocket more?
“I think he’ll be able to,” Zimmer said. “That is one of the better things that he does. He did it a couple times [against the Seahawks] and then he threw the nice deep ball to Adam [Thielen] on third down, but yeah, he has been doing well. I don’t know what his stats were throwing the ball, but he’s pretty accurate.”
Through two preseason games, Cousins has completed 10 of 12 passes for 133 yards with one touchdown.
Solid offense so far
The Vikings dominated offensively against Seattle, outgaining them 409-221 and winning the time-of-possession battle by controlling the ball for 38 minutes, 10 seconds to the Seahawks’ 21:50.
“I feel good about the team. We have a lot of work to do now, but I feel good about it,” Zimmer said. “They’re businesslike, and I like how we’re playing together.
“Offensively, I like what we’re doing. I really like the communication during the game about play calls and things like that. I feel like we’re keeping defenses off balance with the things we’re doing: running the ball, play-action pass, quick throws, throwing the ball deep. I think all of those things have been good.”
Special teams needs
One new coach in the spotlight is Marwan Maalouf, the Vikings’ special teams coordinator.
On Sunday, Dan Bailey made a 24-yard field goal and an extra point while Kaare Vedvik, who was acquired from the Ravens for a fifth-round pick, made an extra point and attempted three punts averaging 46.7 yards.
Still, Zimmer sounded as if he is ready for the kicking positions to be settled, with the regular-season opener Sept. 8 vs. the Falcons.
“[Maloof] is doing good, but we need to clean up a lot of special teams things and figure out exactly who is going to be playing there,” Zimmer said. “We’re looking at a lot of guys and we need to clean some of that up.”
Who does he think should be kicking field goals?
“It’s a good question,” Zimmer said. “Bailey made all of his kicks and I thought Vedvik did a nice job of doing all three jobs: kick off, punt and extra points.”
Zimmer, entering his sixth season leading the Vikings, said some young players have really surprised him with their play in training camp.
“I think this Olabisi Johnson, the receiver, has done a nice job,” Zimmer said. “I like our young offensive guys, [center Garrett] Bradbury and [running back] Alexander Mattison, those guys have shown toughness and physicality. And then [tight end] Irv Smith caught a few balls [Sunday], which was good. Defensively this [tackle] Armon Watts has shown up a little bit, so that has been a good thing, another young, new guy. [Safety Marcus] Epps, I saw him a couple times on special teams, so maybe we can get something going there.”
Does Zimmer anticipate more snaps for the starters in Week 3 against Arizona?
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I will look at the tape and see where we’re at. We’re going to practice them pretty hard this week and we’ll kind of know where we’re at and what I feel like we need to do.”
One player he said is sure to see his first preseason action is running back Dalvin Cook.
“He’s fine. I have just been holding him out,” Zimmer said. “I’ll probably get him some carries.”
Praise from Carroll
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said that after facing the new-look Vikings offense, there is no doubt Kubiak has his fingerprints on this system.
“You can tell that it’s Gary’s stuff, in the passing game and the running style. He has had an influence on them,” Carroll said. “They look good.”
He added that the Vikings’ coaching changes seem to have paid off.
“They did a good job getting those guys. You can see the changes. The defense is what it has always been and the offense looks a little bit different,” he said. “They look better.”
Does he view the Vikings as a team that could go far in the NFC?
“Yeah, I think they have a good team and [Zimmer is] a guy that can get it done,” he said. “I think Mike has done a great job.”