One of the biggest reasons the Vikings offense went from scoring 22.5 points per game in 2018, which ranked 19th overall in the NFL, to 25.4 points per game in 2019, which ranked eighth, was the influence of veteran assistant coach Gary Kubiak.
Coach Mike Zimmer brought in Kubiak last season to be assistant head coach and help steer the offense under first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, and the results were impressive.
Now Zimmer has first-year co-defensive coordinators in Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer for the 2020 season, and he has once again brought in a veteran coach to be a sounding board for those new coordinators in Dom Capers.
When the Vikings hired Capers, Mike Zimmer said he would fill a role similar to Kubiak’s. One big difference is that the Vikings probably won’t change their defensive scheme too much after finishing last season tied for fifth in the league in scoring defense (18.9 ppg), but they also allowed 364.2 yards per game, their highest total since 2015.
“[Capers’ and Kubiak’s roles] will be similar,” Zimmer said. “A lot of the same things. Gary had probably a little more input on terminology and things like that. We won’t change defensive terminology. … [Capers’] role will be more of kind of an overseer, an idea person, you know, maybe the corners should play this way or maybe we should play defensive line a little differently.
“It’s more of another guy like a consultant that can come in. We have been running this defense for a long, long, long time, and I just thought it would be good to get some fresh ideas.”
Capers and Kubiak have a lot in common as well-respected NFL coordinators and head coaches before joining the Vikings. Both had two head coaching stints: Capers led the Panthers from 1995-98 and the Texans from 2002-05; Kubiak ran the Texans from 2006-13 and the Broncos from 2015-16.
Before joining the Vikings, Capers had been a senior defensive assistant for the Jaguars last season and defensive coordinator for the Packers from 2009-17.
Zimmer said Capers’ experience — he has coached in the NFL since 1986 — made all the difference in hiring him.
“Dom has been doing this for a long time, and I know he has always had really good ideas in the pressure game, defensively,” Zimmer said. “I just wanted another idea guy, really, somebody to come in and maybe have a little better way of doing things than we have done it in the past or at least be able to say, ‘Have you thought about doing it this way or that way?’ Then we all sit in a room and decide how we want to do things.
“I just thought with the experience that he has and the number of things he has done in his career, and basically he was doing a lot of the same things in Jacksonville that he’ll be doing here.”
While the Vikings are dealing with a lot of coaching turnover, including a new defensive backs coach in Daronte Jones, Zimmer said they know how to handle this kind of change.
“You know, quite honestly, we had a lot of new coaches last year, but they were on offense,” Zimmer said. “We had the same set of coaches defensively for the six years that I’ve been here, so really it’s just about talking things through, talking about technique, talking about alignments, taking on blocks, it’s really just about getting on the same page and then when we all get on the same page, we can get all the players on the same page.
“Really in the NFL, you know, or football in general, [if] you are going to have a lot of new coaches, a lot of new players, that’s the most important thing is everybody getting up to speed.”
Lots of new faces
This Vikings squad will have to get to know each other in a hurry, but Adam Zimmer said last month that the team is ready for big changes.
“You’re never going to have it be the exact same every year and you’re going to have to rely on some new players, some young guys, and that’s why you have to coach them up and bring them together as best you can,” he said. “I do think we do have a great core of veterans that know how we do things around here that are going to help the new guys, whether it be [safeties] Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith, [linebackers] Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, [defensive linemen] Danielle Hunter and Shamar Stephen.
“Those guys know how we do things and know the expectations around here, so they’re going to be the ones that are helping hold these guys accountable and show them what a Vikings defense looks like.”
Motzko saw Kaprizov
The Wild made their big signing this week, bringing in Russian star Kirill Kaprizov on a two-year deal. Kaprizov is the top international hockey prospect who the Wild drafted in the fifth round in 2015.
Gophers men’s hockey coach Bob Motzko got a chance to see Kaprizov during the 2017 World Junior Championships.
Motzko was the head coach for Team USA and led the squad to the gold medal. The U.S. had to beat Russia 4-3 in a shootout in the semifinals to reach the title game and Kaprizov scored one of Russia’s goals.
Also playing in that game for Team USA was Luke Kunin, the former Wisconsin Badger drafted by the Wild with their No. 1 pick in 2016, and Jordan Greenway, who the Wild selected in the 2015 draft. Greenway has eight goals and 20 assists this season and will be a big part of the Wild’s playoff push.
Kaprizov led all scorers in that 2017 World Junior Championship with nine goals and three assists and Russia won the bronze-medal game.
Kunin finished the tournament with two goals and two assists and Greenway had three goals and five assists.
• Brian Dozier was released by the Padres after signing a minor league deal. Dozier, 33, was easily one of the most popular Twins of the past decade, and his 192 home runs since coming into the majors in 2012 are the most by any second baseman in that stretch, topping Robinson Cano, who has 180. Dozier’s 42 homers for the Twins in 2016 tied Rogers Hornsby for the second most by a second baseman in a single season, one behind Davey Johnson, who hit 43 for the Braves in 1973.