The Vikings OTA offseason workouts will end on Thursday and General Manager Rick Spielman said he has noticed early on this offseason that the team and the coaching staff are being motivated by their disappointing end to the 2018 season.
Spielman was instrumental in carrying out a number of major changes to the coaching staff and the roster during the offseason, and with a new contract that keeps him here through 2020, he knows that coming up short again in 2019 isn’t an option.
“We have to have a better season,” he said. “We have good players here, and I know the coaching staff is outstanding and I know Coach [Mike Zimmer] will lead us in the right direction.
“I think it’s getting better every day. I know the guys came in and everybody has a chip on their shoulder, including Coach Zim. The guys are improving every day and just look forward to finishing out strong for the rest of the OTAs.”
The Vikings added offensive guard Josh Kline, defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, quarterback Sean Mannion, offensive linemen Dakota Dozier and Brett Jones, running back Ameer Abdullah and wide receiver Jordan Taylor. They also were able to bring back linebacker Anthony Barr and kicker Dan Bailey.
On top of that, they drafted 12 rookies along with signing a number of rookie free agents.
With so much roster and coaching turnover, Spielman noted that OTAs were important for getting everyone on the same page and the coaches are leading that.
“They have done a great job,” he said. “Rick Dennison with the offensive line and understanding what he’s looking for and the type of players we need up front to run the kind of scheme we’re going to run, and Gary Kubiak, of course, and [quarterbacks coach] Klint Kubiak and Brian [Pariani] the tight end coach, all have done a great job, [Marwan] Maalouf on special teams, there’s a lot of new ideas. I think it will pay off for us.”
Defense adding wrinkles
While a lot of focus this offseason has been on the drastic changes to the offensive coaching staff, Spielman said that Zimmer has been making changes after the defense fell from the top team in the league in points allowed (252) and yards allowed (4,415) in 2017 to ninth in points allowed (341) and fourth in yards allowed (4,955) in 2018.
“There’s going to be little twists they’re putting in and even Coach Zimmer is doing little tweaks here and there,” Spielman said. “I know Coach has spent a lot of time during the offseason tweaking some of the schemes and things we can do differently that will hopefully help improve our ballclub.
“The defense, I think there’s a few new wrinkles. The offense is getting used to the new system under [offensive coordinator] Kevin Stefanski and some of the stuff that Gary Kubiak has helped put in.”
Earlier in the offseason Zimmer said that he felt cornerback Xavier Rhodes needed to live up to his five-year, $70.1 million deal.
How does Spielman feel about the defensive back group?
“I know Xavier has been working extremely hard and looking for another big year from him,” he said. “Trae Waynes you know, I think Mackensie Alexander last year was probably playing the best at corner toward the end of last season, and you know Mike Hughes is working extremely hard on his rehab to get him back, Holton Hill, we have a lot of good depth there at the corner position.”
Offense in the offseason
Spielman described the system he sees being put in by the offensive coaches.
“I think with the running game and with doing some of the things that [quarterback] Kirk [Cousins] does, I know we’ve always won games here under Coach Zimmer playing good defense and being able to run the ball and make plays off of play action and so I think that’s the point of emphasis,” he said.
Is he pleased with the play of first-round draft pick Garrett Bradbury at center and moving Pat Elflein to guard?
“We haven’t had the pads on yet, but we put him there at center and you can see him move around and you can see his athletic ability,” Spielman said. “Learning the offense, but I think moving him to center and putting Pat Elflein at guard right now, we’ll definitely be improved up front.”
That revamped offensive line will be making room for running back Dalvin Cook, but the team also had to replace Latavius Murray.
“Dalvin Cook looks completely healthy,” Spielman said. “… The young guys, and [Mike] Boone and signing Ameer Abdullah back, been impressed with [Alexander] Mattison so far, the third-round pick from Boise.”
Has anything really surprised him early on?
“It is too early to tell right now,” he said. “There are a couple of guys that are really sticking out from an athletic standpoint, but I kind of hold back and wait until we get back here for training camp when you get an opportunity to see them play in pads. I’m excited about the direction that a lot of these young guys are going.”
• Can the Gophers basketball team survive the loss of Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer, Isaiah Washington and Amir Coffey despite the additions the team made?
• You have to wonder if the Sacramento Kings, who have three second-round picks in the NBA draft, told Coffey they would target him as a pick. Coffey worked out for the Kings this week before deciding not to return to the Gophers.
• As Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph continues to try to negotiate a contract, he played golf this week with Ernie Els at the Memorial tournament in conjunction with the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. His father, Dan Rudolph, caddied.
• Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders gave an injury update on his team: “Jeff [Teague] is continuing to progress. He has been in Minnesota going through his rehab, getting back to full strength. The same goes for Robert [Covington]. … They are definitely progressing.”
• The MLB draft will take place Monday and Michael Busch, a Simley grad who attended North Carolina, is projected by MLB.com to go No. 23 overall to the Rockies. They wrote of Busch: “One of the more polished and disciplined hitters in the college ranks, Busch could go a bit higher in the draft to a club that believes he can handle left field or second base.”
• Another Minnesota native who could be selected high is Matt Wallner of Forest Lake, who plays for Southern Miss. Wallner was voted the Conference USA Player of the Year and was a consensus preseason All-America. Wallner and Busch are playing in the NCAA tournament.
• Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski announced Wednesday that Apple Valley native Tre Jones had hip and hernia surgery recently. Word is Jones will be fine for the start of the regular season.