New head coach Mike Zimmer will have different schemes for the Minnesota Vikings on offense and defense, but he also decided to go with a new strength and conditioning staff that is implementing changes. Evan Marcus, the new head strength and conditioning coach, has incorporated a switch in philosophy that meant all new equipment in the weight room – moving away from mostly machines toward a heavy load of free weights.
"With machines, there's only so much power you can generate on a machine that's basically – you're isolating a muscle. We're trying to do total body movements," Marcus said. "A lot more ground-based stuff. Because they play on their feet we're doing things that they're standing up and driving power into the ground.
"We talk about it being a new workout, but a lot of this stuff was done in college for these guys so it's not totally new to them. Some of these guys haven't done in it awhile but it's going back to the basic developmental stuff that they did in college. My job is development. Our strength staff, our whole philosophy is about developing the athlete. I think whether they're 22 or 32, they can always improve and still develop, even at that age. So our focus is on development of the guys."
The Vikings are in their second week of the offseason conditioning program, where strength and conditioning is the only on-field coaching allowed. Wearing helmets is prohibited, and throwing footballs is also prohibited by the collective bargaining agreement until the second phase of the offseason program, which starts next week for the Vikings.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph said the change in the weight-room philosophy took some getting used to, but he said the strength and conditioning staff sent out a letter to players some time ago explaining the changes and what they should be prepared to face. Rudolph said that helped the players make an adjustment in their offseason workout routines away from Minnesota.
The focus, as it is with most strength and conditioning staffs, is improving the explosiveness and the strength of the players. But Marcus believes that free weights are a better avenue to get that accomplished. He said he was clear about that during his interview with the Vikings and that's the route they decided to go.
It would be impossible for players not to notice the difference.
"We did a lot of Olympic-based movements before, just more that's how this program is sort of the bare bones, Olympic-based movements, ground-based movements with the barbell in your hands compared to, we did that before, just not quite as much," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Maybe the biggest difference is we're all working out together in bigger groups, so it makes it a little bit easier just to be around your teammates during this time when we're getting meetings and learning the defense together and going through the schemes together. It's a little bit more of a college atmosphere."
Linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who rejoined the Vikings this year after spending last season with the Arizona Cardinals, agrees with Greenway's assessment.
"It definitely feels like (a college atmosphere) because all 11 guys on the field, we're getting at it in the weight room right now," Brinkley said. "So once we get out between those white lines, everybody is going to have to be together, be one unit and be one team, and just going out and compete."
Besides moving to free weights, the amount of players in at one time is a major difference from the old conditioning program. Dozens of players are in the weight room at the same time and given a bit more independence with their workouts.
For a player new to the Vikings, like cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, the more teammates he can meet before practices start, the better.
"It's the best way to get in shape, working out with your peers, your teammates, get to know everybody," Munnerlyn said. "It's just coming in, getting to know everybody, know the system and get to know some of my teammates, man. I'm excited about it. It translates on the field very well because you'll be in better shape come June, July and it will carry into the season."
The increased amount of activity at one time increases the camaraderie and competitiveness.
"When you're in that big group setting, guys get competitive, they're seeing each other. There's accountability because if you're not a good worker you're going to get called out in a group. We're trying to build accountability, teamwork, guys working together to build an energetic environment," Marcus said. "I think you can do that through the larger group setting. But, yeah, it's a little bit of a college environment because the music's going and the guys are getting after it. … That college environment where it's all about development, why not transfer that over to here?
"We're going to train dynamic, we're going to be strong, we're going to be physical. We'll have the mindset that we're going to be aggressive in attacking what we're doing in the weight room."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.