With no Mike Zimmer on hand for the Minnesota Vikings’ organized team activities, the coordinators have plenty on their plate over the next few weeks.
For first-spring offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, he isn’t only one dealing with players who weren’t part of his offense last season. From the line to the receivers to the running backs, everything is new for the new-look Vikings offense.
As it pertained to the offensive line, left guard Alex Boone might be the only lineman starting at the position he was last year at this time – a bitterly ironic statement considering the O-line revolving door last season.
With free agent acquisitions Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers taking over at tackle and rookie center Patrick Elflein perhaps pushing center Joe Berger to right guard, the Vikings have a much different look up front.
“We’ve got new players, certainly,” Shurmur said. “Two in free agency and then obviously the rookies. They’re out there working. We’re really pleased with what we’ve seen so far. They’re battling. This is only the second day that they’re going against a defense. They’re fast learners. They’re understanding quickly what we’re trying to do. Now they’re out there just battling. With offensive linemen, as good as you think they might be doing, it’s so important that when we get into pads and into a preseason game, that helps determine who those first five guys will be.”
Asked if he believes the O-line the team has configured could be a group that is greater than the sum of its individual parts, Shurmur said that’s how an ideal offensive line should be.
“That’s the key to offensive line play,” Shurmur said. “Certainly, each guy has to block their guy. But I think the hallmark of what makes a good offensive line is really how well they play together. I think they’re getting lots of reps. They’re certainly developing.”
In his short time as interim offensive coordinator for the final 10 games last year, Shurmur didn’t have to run an offense that centered on Adrian Peterson. He inherited Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata.
As he starts installing his full offensive scheme, he has rookie Dalvin Cook. In the short time he’s seen him, Shurmur is excited about the possibilities in a post-Peterson era.
“He certainly caught our eye in the rookie stuff,” Shurmur said. “Now that he’s in with the vets, you can still see all the things that we saw. He’s a very instinctive runner. He’ll get his foot down and gets up the field. He’s actually pretty instinctive when it comes to who to block in pass protection and he catches the ball extremely well. We’re seeing all the same things that we saw from him in his college tape and in the rookie practices. He’s making good progress.”
Another new weapon at Shurmur’s disposal is veteran wide receiver Michael Floyd, who signed earlier this month and is expected to have a potentially significant role in the offense once he’s incorporated.
It is Floyd’s downfield ability that makes him dangerous and Shurmur, while dealing with an extremely limited sample size, is intrigued with what he has seen so far.
“Through the years, you’ve seen that he’s been able to make contested catches and use his size to his advantage,” Shurmur said. “He also moves extremely well and he’s got good ball skills. So, I think he can separate. We just need to get him up to speed … he’s probably the guy that is most behind right now. But he’s a fast learner, he’s a pro and he’ll get that done.”
The arrival of Floyd doesn’t necessarily mean that 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell is going to become an afterthought. Shurmur has seen the improvement and understanding of the offense that Treadwell has taken on, and Treadwell’s maturation during the offseason has been obvious to Shurmur.
“He’s had a great, in my opinion, five and a half weeks,” Shurmur said. “He came back and he was really on point with what he’s supposed to be doing mentally. He’s been out here competing and doing a nice job running routes and catching the ball. Understanding where he fits in the running game and who to block. To this point, we’ve been really pleased with his progress based on a year ago.”
The one seeming unknown on the 2017 Vikings with a defense that is good enough to win games is the offense. It is the big question mark that has some predicting double-digit wins and others projecting double-digit losses.
Of all the people who are going to be key to the level of success the Vikings attain in 2017, Shurmur may be at the top of the list, and the extent to which he can incorporate players who weren’t contributors in 2016 when he took over the Minnesota offense will go a long way to determining where the Vikings finish this season – as a playoff team or a team in transition.