While the Minnesota Vikings looked to address their most pressing needs on the offensive side of the ball, coordinator Pat Shurmur sounds like he has a clear emphasis where he wants his offense to improve the most.
This offseason will be the first with Shurmur fully in charge of the offense after taking control of the coordinator position following Norv Turner’s midseason resignation. Although there will still be portions of last year’s offense in play, minor tweaks will be made across the board. But the running game appears to be a focal point.
“We’ll be able to operate differently. Some of the plays will look different maybe in special situations, but the key thing is we’ve got to do a better job of running the football in all situations and I think that will be a focal point,” Shurmur said. “From an offensive standpoint, you have to be able to score points. We need to be more efficient running the ball, hopefully more explosive and then when we get in there close we’ve got to score points.”
The Vikings finished last in the NFL in rushing yards and struggled to get quality runs on a consistent basis, forcing them to often chase additional yards in the passing game just to keep possession of the ball.
While Shurmur and quarterback Sam Bradford have worked together in St. Louis and Philadelphia, this will be the first offseason for Bradford to work with his Vikings receivers after joining the team via trade 10 days before the start of the regular season.
“When he comes back [for the offseason program], him having the ability to sit down with the players he’s going to play with through the offseason and then we’ll do things that fit his eye, that fit with what we do and we’ll be able to practice that more,” Shurmur said. “When he came in this year, everything was running parallel and real fast. He had to get up speed with what we were doing, he had to quickly learn the players he was playing with and that connection between the quarterback and the skill players is extremely important and that chemistry is built really in the offseason when you get the chance to slow it down and run the individual routes that are within the concept and so he gets a feel for their body language and vice versa. That’s where you’re hopeful that you’re going to see a big jump in efficiency in terms of the passing game.”
Shurmur views the differences in his offense in the second half of the 2016 season to be more about “additions” than full-blown “changes.”
Now, with a full offseason to implement what he wants to run given the personnel he will have to work with, he can begin by installing the basics and progress forward from there.
Perhaps the biggest changes will come in the running game, where long-time Vikings running back Adrian Peterson might not be with the team in 2017 and the offensive line could also have a dramatically different look.
“As the season went on, you can’t strip it down to the studs at that point so what you have to do is kind of move forward and just tweak it. Now what we can do is go back and teach the fundamentals of it in the way that we want to communicate it,” he said. “But in all offenses there’s ways to run the ball in the one-back, there’s ways to run the ball in two-back. And then really what you’ve got to look at is, OK, who are the players that you have and what is the best way to build the foundation of the offense that’s going to be able to convert throughout the season against the opponents you play?”
Shurmur said he will lean “heavily” on offensive line coach Tony Sparano to help incorporate the protection and run schemes in the offense. Those schemes likely will be dictated by the personnel he ends up having after additions in free agency and the draft.
“From an offensive standpoint, it’s always a coordinated effort and it takes everyone,” Shurmur said. “Certainly anything you do on offense starts up front. Obviously there will be changes at all the position groups.”
After a league-low 1,205 yards rushing in 2016, one of the first emphases will center on improving the run game.