The Minnesota Vikings could be getting younger this offseason.
Last year during spring and summer practices, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Andre Smith, Phil Loadholt, Shaun Hill and Adrian Peterson were all part of the offensive roster. Sullivan and Loadholt were gone before the start of the season and now Peterson, Fusco, Smith and Hill are also out (but only Smith has signed with another team).
In replacing Matt Kalil and Smith/Loadholt at the tackle position, the Vikings got younger with the combination of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, mostly because of the ages of Smith and Loadholt, and shed about five years in age between Latavius Murray and Peterson at running back.
But even before all of those changes were executed, head coach Mike Zimmer was contemplating his use of practice time and how it might be better used to improve the skills and understanding of his younger players.
“I’m really taking a hard look at how we as the Vikings can change some things,” Zimmer said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I don’t take all the practice time, but we could practice for three hours. Well, we might practice for two hours – I don’t care anymore – I might practice two hours and another hour with some of these young guys to try to get these guys up to speed a little bit faster.”
From what the media is able to witness during in-season practices, they don’t appear to be as grueling as Rhett Ellison’s father, Riki, insinuated in a since-deleted Facebook post that praised the Vikings on some fronts but criticized them for what he seemed to believe were practices that were too taxing on veteran players.
It’s important to note that Zimmer’s comments came before Riki Ellison’s comments but after Zimmer said he had talked with many of his veterans to see how they think he can become a better coach.
But another of Zimmer’s comments on certain positions may have given a glimpse into why the Vikings went after free-agent offensive lineman and thereby may have given any potential draft picks this year on the offensive line more time to develop. That’s one of the positions that Zimmer believes doesn’t translate as quickly as others from college football to the NFL.
“College football, again for the offensive line, is so much different than for the NFL. Maybe incorporating some of those things may help them, things that they’ve done for three or four years,” Zimmer said. “… Some of it is paring down so it’s more simplistic, where they don’t have to have so many different things. The two areas that the offseason affects guys the most is offensive line and corners – player development is huge.
“So we’re going to have to make a really pointed effort to the player development things. I’m on a couple coaches committees now and that’s a lot of what we’re talking about, how we can try to get these guys better and make the game better?”
With the proliferation of spread offenses in college, it has changed how some college football teams use their blockers up front. There are more two-point stances from their linemen than is typical in the NFL, and they aren’t always asked to hold their blocks as long as they are in the NFL, where quarterbacks can take more time to survey the field for second and third options in the passing game.
With NFL restrictions on the amount of practice time, which has been collectively bargained, Zimmer is looking for the most efficient use of practice time, especially when it comes to younger players.
That might not mean simplifying schemes any more than they are, but perhaps getting more consistent execution.
“In my opinion, we’re fairly simple anyway. To me, it’s more about execution than trying to be a guru or trying to be so smart,” Zimmer said. “What can we execute and do it well? To me, that’s what it’s more about.”