Two days after the Vikings mustered only three field goals in a home playoff loss, coach Mike Zimmer made it clear in both his actions and his words that improving his offense, specifically the five guys up front, will be the team’s top offseason priority.
Zimmer announced Tuesday at his season-ending news conference that he had told veteran offensive line coach Jeff Davidson that his contract would not be renewed. And after the play of that unit was “sporadic,” as Zimmer put it, throughout the season, he suggested that all five offensive line spots will be up for grabs in 2016.
“We’ve got to do better,” Zimmer said, later adding, “I think we need to compete at that position. I think guys need to come in and compete whether it’s [John] Sullivan or [Phil] Loadholt or [Matt] Kalil or whoever it is.”
The offensive line was good enough in the ground game to help star running back Adrian Peterson win his third rushing title while scoring 11 touchdowns and garnering first-team All-Pro honors. But the Vikings averaged only 2 yards per carry in Sunday’s 10-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The passing attack ranked 31st in the NFL, with second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater averaging just 201.9 yards per game, in large part because of issues with pass protection. Bridgewater was under pressure on 46.9 percent of his dropbacks, the most among NFL starting quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Kalil, their starting left tackle, and rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings both ranked in the bottom 20 offensive tackles in the league in pressures allowed. Left guard Brandon Fusco had a down year. Right guard Mike Harris is a free agent. And Sullivan and Loadholt will be 30-year-olds coming off season-ending injuries.
The offensive line also was a problem in Zimmer’s first season on the job, and he ran out of patience with Davidson, a holdover from Leslie Frazier’s coaching staff who had been with the organization since 2011. Asked Tuesday why Davidson’s contract would not be renewed, Zimmer bluntly said, “I didn’t want to.”
Zimmer did not say whether he had a replacement in mind. He did not rule out promoting assistant offensive line coach Hank Fraley. Pat Flaherty, the offensive line coach for the Giants for the past 12 seasons, will be interviewed for the job, Fox Sports reported.
Zimmer would not confirm a National Football Post report that said the Vikings had reached out to Dan Campbell, who finished the season as the interim head coach for the Miami Dolphins. The former NFL tight end was a member of the Dallas Cowboys from 2003 to ’05, when Zimmer was their defensive coordinator.
As for offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Zimmer indicated that he expects Turner to be back for a third season, under the assumption that Turner wants to keep coaching.
It is obvious, though, that Zimmer expects better results on that side of the ball after the Vikings finished 29th in total yards and 16th in scoring this past season.
“Offensively we’ve got to get better,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t do enough there.”
The offensive line is not the only problem, as far as Zimmer is concerned.
He wants to see Bridgewater improve his throwing mechanics. He talked to Peterson about improving his ball security after his latest fumble cost the Vikings dearly in Sunday’s stunning loss to the Seahawks. And there will be changes at the wide receiver position after that group also disappointed.
While Zimmer praised the professionalism of deep threat Mike Wallace, who had only 39 catches for 473 yards in his first season in Minnesota, he stopped short of saying Wallace would be back in 2016, when he is slated to make $11.5 million. And Zimmer said 2013 first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson must be more than just a return specialist.
Zimmer insisted this offseason won’t be all about the offense for the Vikings. But there is no doubt that Zimmer knows that the offense must be much better for the 2015 NFC North champions to take another big step forward in 2016.
“We’ve got a ton, a ton of work to do,” Zimmer said, generally speaking. “I’ve been looking at a lot of different things already. It’ll be a big, important offseason for us as far as moving forward to where we want to get to.”