Musgrave was hired to be the Vikings offensive coordinator in January 2011 when the Vikings made Leslie Frazier the full-time head coach and he brought Musgrave on board to lead the Vikings offense. With Brett Favre not coming back and a dearth of quarterback talent available in the draft, it was going to be Musgrave's job to do in Minnesota what he did in Atlanta – help make an NFL newbie (Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Christian Ponder in Minnesota) a viable NFL quarterback.
The 2011 lockout took away the formative steps of bringing along Ponder. He ended up starting 10 games, but only because Donovan McNabb couldn't close out significant second-half leads in the first three games of the season – all Vikings losses – and, at some point, Frazier, Musgrave and Rick Spielman decided the future is now, benched (and later released) McNabb and threw Ponder into the fire.
This time around, however, Musgrave has had a full offseason to work with his young offensive group – the concepts are now down, the execution is the only question.
"It's distinctly different this year," Musgrave said. "Our players are more prepared across the board and there are fewer unknowns – not only us coaches, but the players as well. We're hoping to get a ton more accomplished."
The important part of the offense – without Adrian Peterson currently being viewed as the backbone of the offense – is the maturation of Christian Ponder as an NFL-ready quarterback looking to be the next Class of 2011 QB to step into the spotlight – Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have both earned their local stripes. Blaine "Sunshine" Gabbert has yet to find his groove and Jake Locker is wondering if anyone remembers the Titans' first-round pick from a year ago.
Musgrave said Ponder is well ahead of where he was a year ago at this time – which was learning the concepts of what Musgrave had in mind but not having practical live-action applications. With the NFL labor peace at a current state détente, Ponder has had a full offseason spent like a fixture at Winter Park and the difference in his level of understanding of the Musgrave's offense is pronounced.
"Christian has a greater working knowledge of our system now than he did 12 months ago – hopefully more than he did when we started in May getting on the field," Musgrave said. "We're going to continue to ramp him up and ramp our whole offense up based on what they can handle. We definitely want to get good at some things and not spread any of our players too thin with too much volume."
One has to wonder just how "Big Bang Theory" the Musgrave offense is. Clearly, the Vikings offense is getting newer (and they hope improved), but it may be time to see the full scope of what Brad Childress would have likely called a "kick ass offense." In the NFL there isn't time to baby-step an offense when you got scuttled out of it in your first year. If a significant improvement isn't made, the double-secret probation portion of the Musgrave offense may never see the light of day.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.