Sunday slant: A Vikings offense on display?

The Vikings offense is still being formulated, but there could be some clues on the field Sunday, and it might also include shades of the past under Mike Tice. Either way, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is charged with using his most valuable offensive assets.

Looking for some hints as to what the Vikings offense in 2011 might look like? Fans might be able find some clues by viewing the Super Bowl and by going back to the Vikings earlier in this century.

First, the Super Bowl later today.

When new Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier hired Bill Musgrave as his offensive coordinator, Musgrave referenced the Steelers offense as one of his influences. In reality, it wasn't a direct influence because Musgrave never worked for the Steelers. However, Mike Mularkey, the offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons since 2008 (where Musgrave was the quarterbacks coach from 2006-2010) was the offensive coordinator of the Steelers from 2001-03.

Musgrave will have a variety of influences as he shapes the Vikings offense. There is a Mike Holmgren influence because Holmgren was Musgrave's offensive coordinator in San Francisco in 1991 – Musgrave was a quarterback there from 1991-94. He also spent time with Mike Shanahan as his offensive coordinator in San Francisco and as his head coach in Denver when Musgrave was still playing. Musgrave also spent a year as a quarterbacks coach with the Washington Redskins in 2005, when Joe Gibbs was the head coach.

Still, Mularkey's concepts from his days with the Steelers and Falcons could be one of Musgrave's biggest influences as he shapes an offense he and Frazier said would be tailored to the talents of the players, especially with Adrian Peterson's running style.

"It will definitely be the Minnesota Vikings system. It will have its roots in language, I'm sure, from my history with Coach Shanahan and most recently from my experience with Mike Mularkey," Musgrave said after he was hired by Frazier. "There will be some language that our guys will recognize off the bat because it will have some West Coast roots, and it will have some formations and protections that are more along the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, which we ran down here in Atlanta with Coach Mularkey."

The Steelers' effectiveness in the running game and protections might be affected Sunday because starting center Maurkice Pouncey, a rookie Pro Bowler, isn't able to play because of a high ankle sprain.

The Vikings' passing game might have more West Coast roots. The West Coast offense is known for its intense verbiage, but Musgrave, as a former quarterback in the NFL, knows that too much language to describe a play can be a bad thing.

"One thing i believe in is minimal verbiage, and we'll make it very streamlined. We'll make the formations easy to learn for the guys, because I believe in players playing fast. We don't want them out there thinking what word was used for this or that," he said. "I know with the group of coaches that Les has put together we'll put together a system that is easy for those guys to digest, and they'll go out and cut it loose."

Mularkey combined an ability to use trick plays to get players like Antwaan Randle El involved in Pittsburgh with a philosophy of being physical in the running game. That's another thing that Frazier is focused on with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, and it was one of the reasons Frazier called upon Jeff Davidson to direct the offensive line. Frazier liked the productivity that the Carolina Panthers got out of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, who each reached 1,000 yards rushing in 2009.

Mularkey's offenses in both Pittsburgh and Atlanta had powerful runners – Jerome Bettis in Pittsburgh and Michael Turner in Atlanta – and Peterson has their power and more speed than either of them. The key will be figuring out what kind of blocking scheme suits Peterson and seeing just how good he could be if given ideal circumstances to work with.

But simply watching the Steelers' formations and blocking schemes – which isn't likely to happen during food-intensive Super Bowl parties – isn't the only way to see what the Vikings offense potentially has in store. You might be able to go back to the Vikings' past to see some of the concepts.

Denny Green's offense with the Vikings in the 1990s was known mainly for its West Coast origins with Green's experience under Bill Walsh. But when Mike Tice gained more of role, especially when he became the head coach, there was more of a Joe Gibbs-Washington Redskins influence in the running game. Tice stressed a power running game and vertical passing game.

In 2002, Tice's first year, the Vikings offense ranked second in the NFL by averaging 387 yards a game, including a first-place rushing ranking at 156.7 yards per game and 5.3 yards per rushing play. They finished first in offense in 2003, averaging 393 yards a game, and fourth in rushing. In 2004, they were fourth in offense, averaging 396 yards a game, and this time it was the passing game that carried them with a second-place ranking in Daunte Culpepper's best season. The offense finally sputtered in 2005, when Culpepper got hurt midway through the season, and Tice was fired immediately after the season.

But offense was never much of a problem under Tice's system. Defense, and the Red McCombs ownership group that wasn't willing to spend to fix problems, were the big holdbacks.

Now Musgrave and Frazier are talking about the offense having West Coast origins with influences from a few coaches with different philosophies, and Gibbs is one of them.

Tice never had an Adrian Peterson to shape the offense around. Musgrave does. The coaching staff, from Frazier to Musgrave to Davidson, is focused on exploiting their prized asset, and that's the best place to start, no matter what system is in place.


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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