Loney's Location, Philosophy

While the Vikings adjust to several new starters on offense and defense, new offensive coordinator Steve Loney is shouldering a heavy load. He is used to handling the offensive line and being a coordinator in previous settings, but former Viking Rich Gannon thinks the change at coordinator is one of the most important things to watch early in the Vikings' campaign.

There have been plenty of storylines to follow when watching the Vikings offense during training camp. How the Vikings will replace Moss, and how soft (or hard?) are rookie Troy Williamson's hands, how Daunte Culpepper will distribute the ball to the new receivers, how the offensive line will mesh …

Off the field, however, is another issue: How new offensive coordinator Steve Loney will juggle his responsibilities between running the Vikings offense and coaching the offensive line. While all eyes were on the field during the team's exhibition games against Kansas City and the New York Jets, some attention should have been paid to Loney, who called plays from the sidelines.

When Loney was promoted to offensive coordinator during the offseason he was unclear whether he would call plays from the sidelines or go the traditional route of calling plays from the press box.

"I've called it from both places in my career," said Loney, who has balanced both the coordinator and offensive line coach roles several times at the college level at Iowa State, Minnesota, Morehead State and Missouri Western. "That probably is the trickiest thing of all. It's the biggest question mark. As an offensive line coach, on the field is where you need to be."

Barring a major change, the sidelines appear to Loney's address on Sundays.

"In the past I've done it both places (the booth and the sidelines) but the majority of the time I've called it from the sidelines. We've got to still work through the particulars of getting the play into the quarterback, but it's something I've done before."

The call goes from Loney to third-string QB Shaun Hill, who then relays it to Daunte Culpepper on the field.

Former Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon, who was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Oakland Raiders and is working with a Twin Cities TV station as an analyst during the preseason, thinks it will take time for the Vikings offense to adjust to their new coordinator situation.

"Offensively, while nobody is really talking much about it, the biggest change that concerns me is the play calling duties," Gannon said. "The departure of Scott Linehan is significant. In the past three years under Linehan, the offense has finished second, first and fourth in total offense. During that same period of time the defense was ranked 26th, 23rd and 28th in total defense. This much disparity between the two units needs to be corrected in order for the Vikings to have a chance to reach the playoffs."

Of course, an improved defense isn't Loney's responsibility. That chore lays with head coach Mike Tice and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. But clearly, with wholesale improvements made during the offseason as well as in the draft on defense, the pressure could be on Loney and the offense to hold up their end of the deal.

But it could take time.

"I have heard great things about Steve Loney, but any time you make a change as this level, there is definitely a transition period," Gannon said. "It will be important during the preseason for the first unit to be efficient early in games and to keep the mental errors and missed assignments to a minimum. If we see too many false starts, delay of games, substitution penalties and unnecessary use of time-outs, this would be a sure indication of confusion and lack of communication."

Gannon's concern wasn't evident in the Vikings' first preseason game against Kansas City. On the road in New York last week, however, the Vikings were penalized heavily – 17 times for 122 yards. Most of those penalties probably aren't attributable to confusion with a new offensive coordinator.

It's hard to argue with Loney's philosophy.

"I think being smart, not turning the ball over and being well coached, playing hard," said Loney, explaining his belief system of how an NFL offense should work. "I want us to be a team that runs the ball effectively. And with that you have to have the ability to throw the ball and still that part of our game isn't going to change. We just have to be more effective in running the ball probably more often."

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