Eventually, Norv Turner's offense will challenge defenses in the NFC North and beyond. For now, however, it is challenging his own players first.
Turner, the new offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, has a complex offense, according to veteran receiver Greg Jennings, who invoke hyperbole to make his point.
"The variations from one play to the variations of how we can get to that one play is a lot," Jennings said after a couple days immersed in the system. "I'm being a little sarcastic with this statement, but it almost equates to what we had last year. Just one play. It's a lot."
Obviously, that's not the case, but both Jennings and second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson talked about the vast differences between Turner's offense and what they both had to learn last year under then-coordinator Bill Musgrave. Both of them were in their first year with Musgrave last year, too.
"Yeah, it's totally different from last year. It's going to be tough, but us guys, we're going to work together," Patterson said. "We're going to be with each other, get here early in the morning leave late after practice. We're going to be with each other and get it done."
Of course, Turner's system has stood the test of time in the NFL.
It did that last year, too, on an individual basis and as a whole.
Last year, even with all their quarterback issues, the Browns finished 11th in passing offense under Turner. Receiver Josh Gordon went from 50 catches, 805 yards and five touchdowns before Turner to 87 catches, 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns with Turner. Tight end Jordan Cameron went from 20 catches, 226 yards and one touchdown in 2012 to 80 catches, 917 yards and seven touchdowns last year with Turner.
"Everybody is going to have an opportunity to showcase what they can do. That's one of the things he is spoken highly upon within our group. He's going to showcase what we do well as individual receivers as well as a unit," Jennings said. "And I think that's all you can ask for when you're in a position where you don't really get to dictate what happens. All you can do is run your route to the best of your ability and hope that you get opportunities to make plays. With what Coach Turner is bringing to the table, there are going to be a lot of guys that have a ton of opportunities to make plays. And if you look at his track record, the receivers and tight ends that he's had, and the running backs, they've all fared very, very well in his systems."
That's exactly what one of Turner's living examples, Josh Gordon, told Patterson when they talked at the Pro Bowl.
But just because that is the expectation doesn't mean getting to that point in four months is going to be easy. There is plenty to learn … and plenty to forget.
"Literally everything is different. The number system is completely opposite than the West Coast," said Jennings, who spent his first seven seasons in Green Bay's West Coast offense. "Obviously, the concepts, once they're in, they're similar. But the way those concepts are verbalized, the language is completely different. Literally I've had to erase everything that I've learned in the past and completely start from scratch, which is exciting because we're all in the same boat. Especially with what he brings to the table, the different variations, it's exciting.
"It can be overwhelming."
Jennings also described it as exciting. He and others believe that what they have to go through from a learning process for the next few months will be worth it once the season starts.
The players know all about Turner's credentials, and they are buying into the offensive coordinator because of his big helping of credibility.
"They weigh a ton," Jennings said of Turner's credentials. "What he says you can pretty much stamp it in concrete. He's one of those guys that's not going to give you a bunch of leeway because his offense works. It's proven and that's one of his statements he makes: ‘Look guys, I've been around a little bit longer than most guys in this building and this has worked.' Now, he's very open-minded and willing to understand that, when putting things on the field, guys are going to run routes differently than guys he's had in the past. Different body types, different kind of guys that we bring to the table so he has to make that adjustment. But as far as his offense, his offense isn't going to change."
But the beauty and the beast of Turner's offense is that there are so many variables, even within one play, that his offense doesn't have to change with the players because the change is already built in. Eventually, that should be a good thing. In the short term, it means even a veteran receiver like Jennings has his head "spinning" from all the adjustments and possibilities.
Jennings said he will have to forget everything he has learned. Imagine what it does to a young player like Patterson, who had just one year of major college playing experience at Tennessee before entering the NFL in 2013.
"It's tough, I've been going through different offenses since high school, each year get a new coach, go to junior college, then Tennessee, then last year to this year," Patterson said. "It's been tough. I lean on the guys in that locker room. I lean on them a lot. They help me and expect big things from me and I expect big things from them."
Jennings doesn't expect it to take that long before the "complex" offense turns comfortable. With Turner on board, it just has to get to that point before the start of the season.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.
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