The Vikings’ belief in their new direction on offense — in a staff they hope is cohesive and a scheme they think will be friendlier to Kirk Cousins — will ultimately be borne out in 16 games this fall, rendering what happened in their offseason program fairly insignificant.
But as players departed the team’s practice facility in Eagan after the conclusion of Minnesota’s mandatory minicamp Thursday, it was clear the offense has work to do.
The Vikings’ offense spent the spring learning the particulars of the team’s new scheme under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and assistant head coach Gary Kubiak, and did so against a defense comprised mostly of players who have been part of one of the NFL’s top units for several years.
It led to an uneven set of results in practices, and in the Vikings’ final minicamp practice defenders were flushing Cousins out of the pocket, before Ben Gedeon returned a Jake Browning interception for a touchdown that touched off a raucous celebration among defenders.
“Right now, the defense is ahead of the offense, just because of the fact they’ve been together for so long,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We have good players there, as well. But I like a lot of the things — I think I have a good feel of who we can be offensively, the strengths that we have with the personnel and also some of the weaknesses that we may end up having to try to avoid.”
As a whole, Zimmer said, he was impressed with Cousins’ spring, pointing out the Vikings spent part of their offseason program attacking the quarterback with defensive looks that opponents used against them last year. The defense spent much of the spring experimenting with different concepts, particularly along the defensive front, and Zimmer said Thursday some of that work was essentially to use his defense as a scout team for the offense.
“We put some stuff in, just so we can get some earlier looks at it, rather than waiting until Week 1 when we’re playing Atlanta or whatever,” Zimmer said. “There’s been some times that we put some coverage periods in that other teams are running, so he can get a look, so receivers can get a look. It’s [good] for them [on offense], but it’s good for us [on defense], too.”
The five weeks between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp provide players and coaches a chance to relax, though Zimmer conceded he’ll likely watch plenty of film on his tablet while he’s spending time at his ranch in northern Kentucky.
When the Vikings return, they’ll likely have more depth at tight end than they did this spring, provided Irv Smith, Tyler Conklin and David Morgan can return from injuries. They also will hope to get receivers Jordan Taylor, Brandon Zylstra and Jeff Badet back — to compete with Chad Beebe after his impressive spring — while counting on Dalvin Cook to build off a strong set of practices in OTAs and minicamp.
Training camp, perhaps, will deliver more signs of progress for the Vikings’ offensive rebuild. For now, they were left largely to make projections.
“They’re way ahead,” Kubiak said. “They’ve been running this scheme for a long time and doing really good, but like I told Kevin [Stefanski] and our players, it gives us a chance to be really good.”