Spielman likes depth, ‘track team’ speed

Rick Spielman likes what he sees on the Minnesota Vikings roster and believes the coaches do, too. (Photo: Kevin Brown/Viking Update)

The Vikings have spent the last couple of seasons hard-target searching specific positions of need to improve their club. A year ago, it was defensive line that was the priority. This offseason, wide receiver and linebacker was a point of emphasis.

On Tuesday, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was interviewed by former Viking Rich Gannon on SiriusXM NFL Radio and addressed what the team has done in the offseason to improve itself at key positions, especially wide receiver and linebacker.

The Vikings made it a priority to add talent at wide receiver during the offseason, trading for Mike Wallace and drafting Stefon Diggs. With returning receivers Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and emerging Charles Johnson, Spielman is convinced that the Vikings now have the personnel to suit Norv Turner’s offensive scheme and complement Teddy Bridgewater’s skills.

“One of the things we wanted to address this offseason to fit Norv’s scheme is to get speed outside,” Spielman said. “When you watch our practices and hear our coaches comment, we look like a track team out there with the way these guys are running. The other the guy who is really coming into his own – we picked him up off Cleveland’s practice squad – was Charles Johnson, who also has tremendous speed for his size. We feel we have the vertical speed to help Teddy to fit what Norv wants, which is predicated on a vertical passing game. Those guys have to get separation down the field.”

Getting the offense bolstered was an offseason priority for the Vikings, but it came on the heels of trying to get players that better fit Mike Zimmer’s defense. The first priority after Zimmer was hired was to shore up the defensive line, and that mission made great strides last season. With that position addressed, the Vikings made improving the depth at linebacker a main priority this season.

“Last year, it was our defensive line,” Spielman said. “We were able to sign Everson Griffen back. We signed Linval Joseph. We picked up Tom Johnson, who had a good year for us. Our biggest concern this year was addressing the linebacker spot. Another guy who has had a great camp for us is Gerald Hodges, who showed up again Sunday night in the Hall of Fame Game. With (Chad) Greenway, with (Anthony) Barr, drafting (Eric) Kendricks, we’re going to have a tough battle.”

While Spielman hasn’t raised the “Mission Accomplished” banner just yet, he said the battles for roster spots at linebacker is indicative of the improvement that the Vikings have seen on their roster in the second year with Zimmer and Turner running the defense and offense, respectively, of the Vikings.

A second offseason has helped Spielman get on the same page with his coaches and now when the Vikings are looking at players – whether in the draft or free agency – they know what players are the best fit in the organization. There may be better players from the pure natural talent standpoint, but the Vikings are now focusing in on those players who can fit their scheme and excel in what the Vikings are going to run.

When it comes down to paring the roster down to 53 players, Spielman believes the Vikings are in a position where they’re going to have to make difficult decisions on who stays and who goes, which is a good problem to have. Not only has the competition for roster spots at linebacker become more fierce, but throughout the roster, there are going to be players the team will have to let go that they don’t want to lose but will be victims of a numbers game.

“That’s going to be a really tough decision on the six linebackers that we’re going to keep,” Spielman said. “I think we’re at the point now that our depth and our youth on the back end of our roster has gotten pretty good. I believe we’re going to have to cut a player or two that will probably end up playing for other teams. That’s always painful after you spent all offseason bringing in the 90 guys. But you have to get down to 53.”

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