Welcome to the job, Leslie Frazier. The good news? Next season – whatever there is of one with the labor uncertainty – can't get much harder than 2010 was.
The bad news? There is plenty of work ahead. Hope you didn't plan any family vacations in the next couple of weeks.
First, the most veteran defensive player on the team, Pat Williams, says he views the upcoming offseason as a rebuilding effort. Frazier and owners Zygi and Mark Wilf view things differently.
"One of the things that gets me excited about my job here in Minnesota is the fact that I don't think we're that far away," Frazier said. "I really believe – there are some things that we'll address this off season – we're right back in the hunt for the NFC North Championship and the NFC Championship as well. I really believe that in my heart. Just knowing our rosters, knowing our division, understanding what you have to do to win in our division, I don't think we're depleted. Obviously there's some people that we want to be able to retain, but our roster's going to turn over, there's no question about it. But we're not that far away."
"… You go through an evolution almost every season it seems with roster change. We're not going to be a whole lot different than some teams. We've just got to make sure we do the right things by acquiring the right people and re-signing the guys we want to re-sign. We're not a whole different from other teams."
Beyond the extensive roster decisions that will have to be made, there are plenty of challenges ahead for Frazier. To wit:
The structure of the Vikings front office won't change much, meaning the decision-makers in place will remain the same.
Rick Spielman is expected to continue working in a collaborative effort with the head coach, but that head coach now officially changes from Brad Childress to Frazier, who believes that decisions can be arrived at in unison.
"It was one thing working with (Spielman) as a defensive coordinator, but now being in the role that I've been in, I've seen the fact that we can work together, we can come to conclusions without harming our organization," Frazier said.
Owner Zygi Wilf preached a message of enhanced communication in the Vikings front office, and that includes the team's chief contract negotiator and salary-cap manager (assuming there is a salary cap in 2011).
"I think that the most important thing that we're looking forward to is that communication, an open communication on a regular basis amongst the coach and Rick and Rob and ourselves (Zygi and Mark Willf) so that we all, as the coach had said earlier, can come up with a decision that's right for the organization, that's best for the organization," Wilf said. "As long as we have that communication and that trust, to listen and to hear, we'll be a better organization for that."
PERSONALITY OF THE TEAM
Frazier took great pride in keeping players focused on always just the next game instead of the distractions that were incessantly knocking at the Vikings' door during the 2010 season. He formed a leadership committee to help convey each week's message in the locker room. The result was a 3-3 record over Frazier's six weeks in an interim role, while the Vikings were 3-7 in the first 10 games this year under Childress.
On the field, Frazier subscribes to the age-old football adage of running the ball and stopping the run.
"We really want to be effective trying to run the football. We showed signs of being able to do that. Trying to be a dominant run team. I think our numbers were up dramatically in some of our games when we wanted to run the football," he said.
"There were 30-plus runs two or three times in that six-game span. That's what we want to be. We want to feature the No. 1 running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson. There's no question about that in my mind. And then be able to utilize the tremendous talent we have on the outside."
Frazier said he will talk to his coaches over the coming days about their roles with the team, but he wants to stress stopping the run on defense once again. The Vikings finished as the first- or second-ranked run defense in the NFL the previous four seasons, but this year they fell to ninth against the run.
"Our mantra is not a whole lot different than it was six weeks ago when I took over – stop the run, run the football, don't turn the football over, take the football away. That's what we want to be able to do, minimize the penalties, in particular the procedure penalties."
SCHEMES AND COACHES
While the Vikings are likely to stick with the Cover-2 defense that Frazier coordinated for the past four seasons, he is still contemplating what sort of offense will fit best.
"I've been a part of the West Coast system here and other places as well. It's a very good system. The one thing I want to do with our personnel – I want to do the same thing with our offense, our defense, our special teams – just go back and evaluate where we are right now and what's best for us going forward with the personnel we have," he said.
"I don't want to be married to anything. I want to really open it up and make sure we're doing the right thing that ensures that we have the best chance at being successful."
According to TheOBR.com, the Cleveland Browns site on Scout.com, could be interested in talking with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell about a role there if he isn't retained by the Vikings. If Frazier decides not to retain him, the team could decide to go in a completely different direction with its offense.
"We're going to get together as a staff and discuss everybody's role. One of the things you want to do in this role that I'm in is look at everything from top to bottom and try to figure out what do we have to do to not be in the situation that we ended up in this season. That's one of the things I mentioned to our team in our meeting this morning."
QUARTERBACK FOR THE FUTURE
The Vikings' most important personnel decision will come at quarterback.
Brett Favre just finished the final year of the two-year deal he signed with the team in 2009 and said it's time to retire. But even if Favre wants to attempt another comeback – an unlikely scenario given the numerous injuries he suffered in 2010 and the off-the-field troubles he faced and is facing – that isn't likely to be in Minnesota under Frazier's watch. He said he will not pursue Favre this offseason, as the Vikings did each of the previous two summers with Childress in the lead.
"I cannot think of any circumstance of where I would pick up the phone and say, ‘Brett, do you want to come back next season?' I can't think of any circumstance where that would occur," Frazier said.
Tarvaris Jackson, Favre's backup for most of the season – until he was called into action and suffered turf toe and ligament damage – is also scheduled to be a free agent this offseason and doesn't appear likely to come back.
That leaves Frazier with 2010 rookie Joe Webb, who started the final two games, and Rhett Bomar, who was claimed off the New York Giants practice squad late in the season.
"I think we're all really pleased with the way Joe Webb performed for us in the last couple games for sure. To play as well as he did and to have one turnover in two starts, that's big," Frazier said. "But it's a position, like all the positions, we'll have to evaluate the rest of this offseason and make sure we're putting together the best 53 that gives us a chance to be successful next fall."
Webb is signed through 2013 and Bomar's contract runs through 2012.
No matter the Vikings' level of confidence in them, and there isn't enough body of work to be convinced on either of them, the team likely will have to find a veteran arm in free agency or the trade market as well as draft a quarterback of the future.
"That's one of the things that we're going to have to determine in the weeks to come. Can we develop a young guy and get what we want, because we don't want to be a team that's hovering around 4-12, 3-13. You don't want to be that," he said. "At the same time, you don't want to bring in a stop-gap guy and not develop a young quarterback for the future. So we've got to sit down and go through all that and make a determination of whether or not to go with a veteran guy, or do we need to bring in a young guy? I think we all want a young quarterback that we can develop and build our franchise around. That would be ideal, to find the next Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco."
The Vikings have the 12th pick in the first round of April's draft, but before they ever reach that point, Frazier will have his hands full with an itinerary of tasks.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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