Scott Linehan was viewed as an innovative coordinator when Vikings head coach Mike Tice brought him from the college ranks to the Vikings to run their offense. Linehan still is all that, but this year he has a better idea of what works in the NFL and what doesn't. This year, he also has a strong idea which players will be his starters.
"This year we're light years ahead of where we were last year," Linehan told VU after last week's developmental camps wrapped up. "Last year we were getting accustomed to each other and coaching styles, what's going to be different, what's going to be the same. This year we just pick up where we left off when we played Detroit, get rid of all the plays that weren't productive and keep all the things that made us the explosive offense that we were last year. We've just got to refine things and get better in other areas that we need to improve on, like ball security.
"We're just getting really focused on the things that were the difference between winning and losing last year. Even though there is a little carryover, there is a lot we had to weed through as a staff. Now we've got a pretty good idea of who is going to be there come Green Bay (the Vikings' regular-season opener on Sept. 7)."
Linehan's offense ranked first in the NFL for rushing in 2002, the first time the Vikings have led the NFL in that category, and they did it despite a rotation of starting left tackles for the first half of the season and an inexperienced Bryant McKinnie in place for the rest of the year.
So even though Michael Bennett is coming back from offseason foot surgery, the running game isn't what concerns Linehan too much. The depth is there with Doug Chapman, Moe Williams and rookie Onterrio Smith to fill in if needed.
Instead, the wide receiver position is about the only position still in question with five weeks to go before training camp opens. The big question on offense is who will take control of the No. 2 receiver position opposite Randy Moss.
"We're not closing the door on the free-agent market," Linehan said. "I think it's very well known that we're still looking to make sure our depth at receiver is what we think it needs to be. The battle, it's really the same situation that it was -- with (D'Wayne) Bates and Kelly Campbell not splitting the reps over there, but they're two different types of players. They've got their strengths. ,,, We got a lot of production between the two of them that maybe wasn't there early in the season. The two of them filled Cris Carter's role being that they're two different types of players. You've got a big-bodied receiver (Bates), real sure-handed, knows what to do in every situation, and then you've got a guy that can fly, is not real big but can run by the defense in Kelly. So we try to keep those guys out there and keep both of them fresh. We play a lot of three-wides, so I look at it like we've got three starting receivers."
Where does that leave Derrick Alexander, who seemed like a forgotten man?
"Derrick is running, but he hasn't really been able to do anything but run routes," Linehan said of Alexander's spring camp status. "He looks like he has worked himself into pretty good shape and had a good offseason, but we still haven't been able to see him go out there in competitive situations yet. I would assume he would be full-go come training camp and come in and compete for a spot. That's the real world."
Besides not completely knowing who will grab the reins and run with the opportunity across from Moss, Linehan has been given the additional responsibility of being a position coach for the quarterbacks while coordinating the offense. It's not a big deal, he says, because he's always coordinated from a quarterback's perspective. In fact, Linehan was a quarterback at Idaho under Dennis Erickson and was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Louisville for three years before coming to the Vikings.
So with a year under his NFL belt, what will be different about the Vikings offense in 2003?
"To the naked eye, I'd say not a lot," he said. "We enjoy the innovative part of the game, so we'll maybe see not the customary plays -- in certain situations do a lot of things to keep people off balance. It's not just running a trick play or a reverse, but to do a number of the same plays that we did last year out of maybe 10 more formations or five formations, just keep the defense off balance and don't be predictable. I think we've done a really good job self-scouting ourselves and making ourselves stay with certain plays that work and not try to go into games with a big play list but just give the defense as many looks as we can. If that means we're no-huddle on this drive and shift into motion on the next drive, those are the types of things that we can talk about -- situational football -- more than we did, especially early in the season last year.
"I think we'll be better as a staff and as an offense and be more smooth because our depth is a lot better. You put Bryant McKinnie at that left tackle spot and automatically we've got something we didn't have last year when we start training camp."
When it's not broken, don't fix it, and if Linehan can get Daunte Culpepper to cut down on the turnovers, there shouldn't be too much to fix on offense in 2003.
Linehan: Year Two
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