Last year the Vikings had one of the league’s worst statistical defenses, especially where it counted most – points allowed. As a result, the Vikings made significant changes, both in the coaching staff and to the personnel on the field.
While the Vikings defense is buying into the scheme of head coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards, perhaps the biggest difference the Vikings defense may experience this season is a hiring made on the offensive side of the ball.
When Zimmer was assembling his staff, one of the first hires made was bringing in offensive coordinator Norv Turner. In his 30th season as an NFL coach, Turner is acknowledged as one of the brightest offensive minds in football. There isn’t much he hasn’t seen on the football field and he has proven methods of attacking.
Just as the coaching staff threw looks at Teddy Bridgewater that he had never seen and was prepared for during training camp, as the Vikings have been building toward Sunday’s regular season opener, both the offense and defense have been exposed to the coaching philosophies and the deep playbooks that are in play.
Defensive end Brian Robison said he’s learned more in the last few months going up against the complex, multi-faceted offense that Turner runs than he has at any time in his pro career.
“Going against that offense every single day makes going against (other) offenses a little bit easier,” Robison said. “He has so many things that he does with that offense that you really need to be on your game. It makes it a little bit easier going into Sunday.
“You can easily get discombobulated with his offense with all the things that that are going on,” Robison said. “You’ve just got to stay clued into your keys and go.”
During a typical practice with the first-team offense going up against the first-team defense, defenders may seem the same alignment several times, but different plays coming off of it. Even grizzled veterans like Chad Greenway have had a renewed enthusiasm for the game because the focus becomes on every individual player doing his job for the good of the unit and not freelance and do things that can be exploited by a coach like Turner.
“They mix things up a lot and it forces you to be aware of more things that are going on around you,” Greenway said. “You see so many different formations and so many different looks that they give you that it makes you keep your focus a lot more on what your job is on a given play. I think it’s going to help us in the long run because we’re going up against a lot of different things in practice and that carries over into games.”
The schemes – both offensively and defensively – are new to the Vikings players, even those who have come in from outside. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn has found himself being tested in the Vikings system more than he has at any time in his career and he credits Turner’s versatile offense with forcing everyone to stay on their toes and not taking their eyes off the prize for a second.
“It’s a pretty complicated offense,” Munnerlyn said. “They’ve been throwing a lot of different things at us in practice and, from what I’ve seen, I’m glad we don’t have to face it on game day. That’s one of the things about our coaching staff. We have a lot of coaches with experience – we have three coaches who were defensive coordinators in the NFL and Coach Turner has been a head coach and a longtime offensive coordinator. They bring so much knowledge to the table that you can’t help but learn from them and get better because of what they’re teaching you.”
The enthusiasm the new coaching staff has brought has trickled down through the players. For the most part, they have spent their time trying to perfect their game plans against one another. In the process, they have been able to improve themselves on both sides of the ball.
Now comes the part they’ve been looking forward to – breaking it out against opponents and see how they react to the new-look Vikings.
“We’re all excited about what we can do on both sides of the ball,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “Our defense is going to be getting after people, making plays and looking to create turnovers. Our offense is going to be more explosive because, from what we’ve seen in practice, there are going to be some big plays coming out of it. I can’t wait to get it started for real.”
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.
Defenders prepared facing Turner’s scheme
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