Among the question marks that will be front and center for the Minnesota Vikings this offseason, addressing the problems on offense will be at the top of the list.
With an offensive line that was decimated by injuries, a quarterback that wasn’t even on the team when the Vikings broke training camp and a running game that struggled throughout the season, there will be changes.
One player who remains in place, but uncertain about his role with the 2017 Vikings offense, is running back Jerick McKinnon. Entering his fourth season, McKinnon will be under contract and part of the team. Beyond that, who knows?.
McKinnon came to the Vikings as a late third-round pick who was a college option quarterback and could be used as a weapon in the Vikings offense, but not necessarily one with a defined role, especially with Adrian Peterson in front of him.
He has been asked to be a rotational starter in two of his three seasons and he has viewed his experience as an apprenticeship by fire, still in the process of refining his game.
“I’m still learning all the time,” McKinnon said. “When I came into this league, I never really played running back, so I had a lot to learn. I’ve had a lot of help from the coaches and the other guys in the (running backs) room about how to be a professional and how to handle my assignments. That’s been the biggest improvement I think I’ve seen in my game.”
McKinnon’s maturation as a player forced him to rely more on instincts in 2016 because of the unprecedented rash of offensive line losses that began before training camp and continued throughout the season.
Grizzled veterans said they had never seen anything like it, much less a third-year guy from Georgia Southern.
It wasn’t merely the O-line that had to adjust. It also included the other six players on the field for the offense because what they had been accustomed to was changing on a week-to-week and, at times, even a quarter-to-quarter basis.
“My first two years, I was used to playing with pretty much the same guys,” McKinnon said. “I knew how they worked on specific plays and could set up runs behind them and wait for a hole to open because I knew what they were going to do. With all the injuries we had this year, everybody was rotating and there just wasn’t that same comfort level. It was hard for the backs to get any rhythm. I thought toward the end of the season were started clicking a little bit better, but it was a struggle for all of us much of the year.”
The Vikings are likely going to be making significant changes on the offensive line – both in free agency and the draft – so this offseason will bring change to an offense that underwent as much in-season change as any in recent history.
The players who were Minnesota’s wounded warriors up front survived the worst of times. As hard as it may seem to believe, as the prospects got worse from those observing from the outside, it brought those on the inside of Winter Park to band more closely together.
“Given everything we had to deal with, I thought those guys up front did a phenomenal job,” McKinnon said. “I’m not sure a NFL team has ever gone through changes like that on the offensive line. We all fought together and I thought we were improving, but we just ran out of time.”
From the ashes of the 2016 offense, something will rise in 2017. There are more questions than answers right now, especially with the potential (if not likely) exodus of Peterson from the organization.
One thing that is all but certain is that McKinnon will be waiting and ready to be a key component of the Vikings offense. The level he will be used is yet to be determined … as are several other offensive unanswered questions.
- If Vikings Assistant General Manager George Paton doesn’t land the G.M. job in San Francisco (he’s viewed by many as the frontrunner), the Indianapolis Colts have sought permission to talk to him. If the 49ers drag their feet, the prospect of going to an organization that has a franchise QB in place in Andrew Luck could get Paton jumping on a plane to get to Indy to interview as soon as possible.
- The buzz coming out of Tampa Bay is that the Bucs may make a run for Peterson if he is released by the Vikings. In a recent interview on ESPN, Peterson volunteered an interest in Tampa Bay, which is capable of voiding the contract of current RB Doug Martin, who recently entered a rehab facility.