With free agency and the draft at the forefront of fans' fantasies during the offseason, there are some potentially underrated changes that aren't getting much offseason play – the alterations that have already been made in the coaching staff.
Leslie Frazier's approach alone will be a change for players, both during the offseason and during the season. The changes he made in the coaching staff will also play a part in how the Vikings operate in 2011.
Those changes will be most prevalent on offense, where Frazier hired a new offensive coordinator and new position coaches at running back, quarterback and offensive line. While Bill Musgrave's presence as offensive coordinator will play an important role, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson could be nearly as pivotal in shaping the team's offensive success.
"Jeff has had a lot of success in Carolina being able to establish the run and had success in doing it. We pride ourselves in being able to run the ball with the premier back in the National Football League with Adrian (Peterson)," Frazier said. "Jeff was able to incorporate two 1,000-yard rushers in Carolina. That's one of the things that intrigued me with him, just being able to bring some of the thought processes.
"But along with that, for our organization he's a tough-minded guy. He really has his guys thoroughly prepared and very detailed, which you have to be on the offensive line. Just looking forward to him bringing some energy to our offensive line."
The Vikings' offensive line has been a sore subject among some fans. Bryant McKinnie is being paid like a Pro Bowl player and has been erratic. Left guard Steve Hutchinson was the highest-paid guard when he signed with the Vikings in free agency in 2006, and some analysts believe his game has slipped as injuries have cut into his effectiveness in the past two seasons. And 2009 second-round pick Phil Loadholt has struggled at times as well.
A different approach to the blocking schemes could increase the effectiveness of the offensive line.
"There will be some adjustments, but they will be positive adjustments that hopefully improves their play, which in turn improves our offense," Frazier said. "It won't be a setback; it should be something that will help them get better."
Last year, the Vikings finished 11th in adjusted line yards, a Football Outsiders statistic that measures rushing yards and assigns the offensive line responsibility based on down, distance, situation, opponent, and other factors. They ranked 19th in pass protection.
Frazier was mindful not to criticize previous offensive line coaches Pat Morris and Jim Hueber, saying that injuries had some effect on the offensive line.
They did play a part. McKinnie and right tackle Phil Loadholt played in all 16 games, but the interior of the offensive line was precarious most of the season. Center John Sullivan spent much of the season battling injuries to both calves and reportedly undergoing preseason surgery. While he played in 14 games, he was clearly limited by his ailments. Hutchinson missed the final five games because of a thumb injury that landed him on injured reserve and also battled a quad injury. Right guard Anthony Herrera played in 10 games before also landing on injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"We were banged up a year ago in some key areas, especially down the stretch and that hurt us," Frazier said. "But going forward, Jeff understands what he has to get done. We've just got to improve across the board, not just the offensive line, but for us to get back to the NFC North championship we've got to do well all across the board. When you look at the fact that the NFC Championship Game featured two teams from the NFC North tells you that we've got our work cut out for us."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Frazier supports new approach to line play
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