This will be one of the most enjoyable weeks for the Vikings players and coaching staff as the team can finally put together a regular week of game planning to prepare to face the Green Bay Packers at noon next Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
This entire preseason, the front office and coaching staff has had to change plans on the fly to try to create some normalcy with the NFL canceling the preseason because of the coronavirus and putting all kinds of limits on OTAs and minicamps for rookies and veterans.
But now the club can put together a standard week of meetings that should offer some familiar routines.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said the coaches have made sure not to overwhelm the players with plans for Green Bay — a game which Vegas has the Vikings favored to win at 2.5 points — because the team had so much to work on with its own schemes and player development.
“It’s important that we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves; let’s focus on us right now and then we can start worrying about Green Bay as we get closer to next week,” Zimmer said. “There is a fine line of giving them a game plan and them getting a little stale with it too early. But we want to be prepared, so we’ll work a little extra on them but not too much more than normal.”
Although this game may not have 66,000 Vikings fans going crazy, the players will still have a lot of motivation after the Packers derailed their NFC North title hopes last year. In two contests with the Packers in 2019, the Vikings were outscored 44-26, outgained 718 yards to 550 and had the ball for 48 minutes, 22 seconds compared with 71:44 for the Packers.
In Week 16, the Packers came into U.S. Bank Stadium and outgained the Vikings 383-139 to end any hopes of a division title for the Purple.
There couldn’t be a better game for the Vikings to open the season with than facing their biggest rival. And while Zimmer said it was tough not having preseason contests, he does feel like the team is moving in the right direction.
“I keep seeing improvement, you know, and as you get going the first day you start out and it looks like this and the second day it’s a little bit better. I feel like we have continued to improve,” he said. “I think both sides of the ball have improved. I guess that’s the best positive out of it.”
Crash course for coaches
The Vikings have had a ton of turnover this offseason — from losing franchise stars like Everson Griffen and Stefon Diggs to adding an NFL-record 15 draft picks and making a late trade for a star defensive end in Yannick Ngakoue.
But maybe the biggest changes will be on the coaching staff.
Gary Kubiak will take over for as offensive coordinator for Kevin Stefanski. Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson will serve as co-defensive coordinators in place of George Edwards. Andrew Janocko moves to wide receivers coach to replace Drew Petzing, and Daronte Jones replaces Jerry Gray, who is now with the Packers, as defensive backs coach.
And the biggest part of missing the preseason is those coaches haven’t gotten to work together during a real in-game experience.
But Zimmer said he’s confident some of the game-scenario work they did during camp will pay off next Sunday.
“I think we’re good in that area. But it’s good to get practice in game situations where you don’t know what the situation is going to be, it just comes up and you have to make your calls and get your personnel in and things like that,” Zimmer said. “It’s always a good refresher for coaches considering we don’t have preseason games.”
Prepare for change
Yes, while the Twins have been playing for weeks, this Vikings squad will be the first team to play its planned pro season and schedule since the coronavirus shut down sports in March.
The Twins have been facing only the American League Central and the National League Central in a shortened 60-game season, but the Vikings will have a full 16-game schedule and travel around the country like they would during a normal campaign.
But Zimmer said he isn’t taking anything for granted and knows that the league and the Vikings’ situation can change at any moment.
“I think it’s going to continually change,” Zimmer said. “All of the protocols are going to continually change throughout the course of the season, just like they have been changing through the preseason. All of these things, the more that we know about the virus, the more we know about everything, it’s going to continually change. I foresee that for the near future, anyway.”
The Vikings have done their best in a difficult situation, and there’s no doubt that playing without fans will be tough, but with the Packers coming to town next week, things should finally feel a little more normal at TCO Performance Center.
• Vikings wideout Adam Thielen on getting ready for a regular-season game against the Packers next week without a single preseason game: “You better be ready. I mean, there is no other choice, right? Once that first Sunday hits, you better be.”
• Offensive line coach Rick Dennison said the Vikings’ decision to move second-round draft pick Ezra Cleveland from tackle, his position at Boise State, to guard is all about his strengths. “Looking at him in college the way he played the tackle position, which he did a fine job, he likes shorter spaces,” said Dennison. “He has great feet, great balance, but he likes smaller spaces. We thought we’d start there and work into his length.”
• Twins legend Joe Mauer is still doing a lot of great work for Gillette Children’s Hospital and is helping with fundraising for their Walk & Roll Family Fun Day on Sept. 12. The event will be virtual this year.
• Former Gophers linebacker Carter Coughlin is battling to make the New York Giants’ 53-man roster after being drafted in the seventh round. He told Newsday out of Long Island that he’s aware cuts are coming. “I’d be lying if I said that’s not something that sits in the back of your mind. But you can’t sit and focus on the what-ifs and what the future holds.’
• Jimmy Shapiro of Bovada out of Las Vegas notes that the over/under for Kirk Cousins touchdown passes this year is 25 while the number for interceptions is 10. Last year, Cousins had 26 touchdowns against six picks.
• Wolves point guard D’Angelo Russell talked on NBA veteran J.J. Redick’s podcast about how he would handle it if the Wolves drafted point guard LaMelo Ball at No. 1 overall: “I wouldn’t mind it, honestly, if that’s what it was and that’s what they see in the future. Man, I’ve been in so many situations, I’d attack it like any other.”