After remembering Tony Sparano’s life at his memorial service on Friday, the Vikings announced their plan to replace their offensive line coach on Saturday.
The team will move tight ends coach Clancy Barone to the offensive line, where he will share the position with former assistant offensive line coach Andrew Janocko. Both coaches will have the title of co-offensive line coach, while senior offensive assistant Todd Downing will become tight ends coach.
Barone, who joined the Vikings before the 2017 season, was the Broncos offensive line coach in 2015 and 2016, leading the group when Denver won Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season. He was also the Broncos offensive line coach in 2010, and coached the group for the Falcons in 2004.
Janocko joined the Vikings before the 2015 season, and worked closely with Sparano as the assistant line coach last year after serving as an offensive assistant in 2015 and ’16. During the Vikings’ first three days of camp, Barone and Janocko split duties working with the team’s rookies, with one coach drilling the right side of the line and the other coaching the left.
The Vikings added Downing to their staff in February, bringing the Eden Prairie native back for his second tour with the team after the Raiders fired him as offensive coordinator. Downing’s first stint on the Vikings’ coaching staff came in 2005, when he worked as an offensive quality control coach under Mike Tice.
The team’s decision comes after the Vikings spent time considering a handful of outside options; a NFL source told the Star Tribune this past week that both Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and retired Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had called Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to recommend former Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin for the job.
Zimmer said continuity was “part of” the Vikings’ decision to fill Sparano’s job internally, but wasn’t the only factor.
“I know these [coaches] have been around these guys, for the most part, for awhile,” Zimmer said. “That was part of it but if I felt like there was a better option that was outside, then I would have done it.”
Griffen likes rotation
Defensive end Everson Griffen, who missed much of the Vikings’ offseason program out of an attempt not to aggravate a slight knee injury, was back on the field for the team’s first full-squad practice on Saturday.
“I don’t know if he’s fully healthy or not; he’s out there, he’s going to go,” Zimmer said.
Griffen had 10 sacks through the first eight games of the season last year, and appeared to be a contender for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors until tearing the plantar fascia in his left foot. He played seven of the team’s final eight games, but had only three sacks in that time.
Zimmer, who has cited pass rusher fatigue as one of the reason for the Vikings’ 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, has called for more depth along the defensive front. Saturday, Griffen made it clear he would be fine with playing a little less if it helped keep him fresh.
“I played a lot of snaps,” said Griffen, who was on the field for roughly 80 percent of the Vikings’ regular-season defensive plays, despite missing a game. ”Taking some reps off wouldn’t be bad, but you love what you do and how you do it.”
Embracing his role
Even with Terence Newman back for his 16th season and first-round pick Mike Hughes on hand, Mackensie Alexander apparently remains the Vikings’ top option at the nickel corner spot. And in his third season, Alexander has a renewed enthusiasm for a position he had initially resisted.
“It was tough for me, because I fought the situation so much,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it [as a rookie]. But now I embrace the role. It’s where I want to be. I just want to be the best Mackensie I can be for my team. I wasn’t that in the past, because I didn’t want to do it. … It’s Year 3, and it’s time to be the best nickel in the game for Minnesota.”
For Alexander, part of the urge to excel is to make mentors like Newman proud.
“Terence stays on me a lot,” Alexander said. “From Day 1, he told me, ‘You can be one of the best to do it if you fix your mind-set.’ He really nurtured me, and stayed on me, and I’m thankful for that.”