Minnesota Vikings: Biggest Takeaways from the Team's OTAs
The Minnesota Vikings had their first three days of OTAs last week, and the tenor will certainly be different under new head coach Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff.
As often happens when a new coach comes on, the Vikings organization appears to have been revitalized with the hiring of Zimmer. He and his coaching staff seem to bring with them a much more authoritative presence than the previous regime.
It's a breath of fresh air for a team that certainly needed a change of direction after Leslie Frazier guided them to a 21-32-1 record over three-plus seasons in Minnesota. Nobody ever questioned Frazier's credentials or character in Minnesota, but it had become clear that the Vikings' ship wasn't going to get turned around long-term with him at the helm.
Also bringing new life to the organization are a couple of key free-agent signings and what the Vikings hope will be a bumper crop of rookies, highlighted by first-round draft picks Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater.
Minnesota will have three different sets of OTAs, all of them three days long, with the last of them scheduled for June 9-12 before the team will hold its mandatory minicamp from June 17-19.
As schools across the country get set to go on summer break, teams in NFL are just beginning their work as they head toward the 2014 season.
OTAs tend to be the most laid back time on the field for NFL players, but it's still serious business, especially for players trying to make an impression and win a job.
We take a look at some of the biggest takeaways from the Vikings OTAs thus far.
There's a New Sheriff in Town
As opposed to last season, when there was a new Sharrif in town. Horrible word play aside, there's definitely a new vibe in the air at Winter Park as the Vikings begin a new era under Mike Zimmer, who was hired to be the ninth head coach in Vikings' history in January.
Zimmer, long respected as a defensive guru, had spent the last five seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. He'd previously been the defensive coordinator for both the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys.
Early indications are that Zimmer brings a little more of an authoritative heft to the job than Leslie Frazier ever displayed. As Mike Wobschall reports on Vikings.com, Zimmer combines some of the best of previous Vikings coaches Mike Tice and Brad Childress.
Shouting doesn't make a coach a good or bad one, but there certainly seems to be more enthusiasm surrounding the Vikings. Zimmer, who turns 58 years old on Friday, brims with an intensity that was lacking the last few seasons.
Since the Wilfs bought the Vikings in 2005, the organization has tried to instill a culture of accountability throughout the franchise. Zimmer might be the most hard-nosed coach the team has employed in that time, and he'll demand the players' respect immediately.
Defensive Improvement Is Priority Number One
There's just no hiding from how brutal the Vikings' defensive numbers were in 2013. While the hot topic around the team for most of the season was the uneven quarterback play, it was the woeful defense that was primarily responsible for the team's 5-10-1 record.
Minnesota was dead last in the NFL in points allowed and second to last in total defense, passing yards and third-down conversion rate.
It came as no surprise then when the team hired a highly respected defensive coach in Mike Zimmer as it's new head coach in January. Gone will be the often passive look of the Tampa 2 defensive scheme. The new-look Vikings defense will attack offenses in a variety of different ways.
As Ben Goessling reports on ESPN.com, Football Outsiders still deems the secondary as Minnesota's biggest area of need.
The Vikings two biggest free-agent signings this offseason were to fill holes on defense. They signed the massive Linval Joseph away from the New York Giants and will plug him into the middle of the defensive line to give it a run-stopping force it's lacked since Pat Williams was let go after the 2010 season.
The club also added cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to take over the starting spot vacated by Chris Cook. Munnerlyn will also slide into the slot in nickel packages, and the Vikings can only hope Munnerlyn approaches the level of play Antoine Winfield gave the team in that role.
The Vikings also used their first pick in this year's draft on outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who will be expected to start immediately and add speed and spark to the defense. The team also drafted six other defensive players and signed several other free agents, players who will add depth to a unit that is in desperate need of it.
Joseph and Barr both have missed the OTAs to this point: The former is rehabbing from a minor injury and Barr was back at UCLA, finishing up his class schedule.
Very few starting positions are settled, as the Vikings are gearing up for a summer of intense position battles on defense.
Captain Munnerlyn Is Ready for the Slot Corner Role
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman made a very difficult decision when he decided not to bring back veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield for the 2013 season.
Winfield was one of the best cornerbacks to ever play for the Vikings, and among the best tackling corners to ever play the game. At 35-years old,Winfield was a salary cap casualty, and part of the reason he wasn't retained, as reported by Mark Craig of the Star Tribune, was so that the team could sign right tackle Phil Loadholt.
Spielman probably never could have predicted how much the loss of Winfield would impact the Vikings defense, which looked lost for most of the season without its veteran leader. Second-year man Josh Robinson took on the role of slot corner in nickel packages and he had a miserable 2013 season.
Per ESPN.com's Ben Goessling, Robinson was ranked 86th out of 87 qualifying cornerbacks, according to thed Success Rate metrics used by Football Outsiders.
Enter Munnerlyn, who at 5'9", 195 pounds, bears a physical resemblance to Winfield and has two years under his belt as a solid slot cornerback.
Munnerylyn has racked up a myriad of impressive stats during his five seasons in the NFL, including seven interceptions (five of which he's returned for touchdowns), 39 passes defensed, 282 tackles and 5.5 quarterback sacks.
Munnerlyn has been an active and vocal leader during the Vikings OTAs, and he'll bring a veteran presence to the Minnesota secondary that was sorely lacking in 2013.
The Vikings Offense Will Be Dramatically Different
Suffice to say that most fans of the Minnesota Vikings weren't sad to see offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave leave the organization after head coach Leslie Frazier was fired.
The general consensus among Vikings fans was that Musgrave's offense was too simplistic and predictable. The belief in the Twin Cities was that Musgrave's play sheet had to be less than half the size of most offensive coordinators.
Things will certainly be different in Minnesota this year with longtime offensive mastermind Norv Turner taking over the reins of the Vikings offense.
2014 will be Turner's 29th season in the NFL, and, as a veteran offensive coordinator, his offenses have nearly always been ranked near the top of the league. Vikings.com writer Mike Wobschall detailed five things to look for in a Norv Turner offense.
Turner will certainly have the weapons to work with in Minnesota with Peterson, wideouts Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Throw in the likes of Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and rookie running back Jerick McKinnon and the Vikings should have enough weapons to be one of the most productive units in the NFL.
The OTAs and all of the summer workouts will be necessary, though, as Turner's complicated offense will never be confused with the more simplistic one deployed by last season's coaching staff. Josh Alper wrote on NBCSports.com that Turner's playbook had veteran receiver Greg Jennings' "head spinning."
QB Teddy Bridgewater Is in the Mix to Start at Quarterback
For the third straight year the Minnesota Vikings traded their way back into the first round of the NFL draft to select a player they feel can get the franchise back on the winning track.
The Vikings swapped a second-round pick and an extra fourth-round pick to get the Seattle Seahawks first-round selection, the 32nd and last pick of the first round.
With it, the Vikings selected Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
If Bridgewater can have a similar impact to the last two guys the Vikings have traded up to get in the first round, Harrison Smith and Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota has their quarterback of the future.
So far, through rookie camp and two OTA workouts, Bridgewater has shown that he can absolutely compete for the stating quarterback job this summer.
Bridgewater's status is sort of a win-win situation for the Vikings. If he's named the starter, it will be because he has left absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that he's the best man for the job. The odds are probably against him beating out veteran Matt Cassel for the job, but those odds are no greater than what third-round pick Russell Wilson faced in Seattle two summers ago.
Bridgewater has never taken much time to adjust to his surroundings. He was a three-year star at quarterback in high school at Northwestern High School in Miami before taking over the starting job at Louisville just four games into his freshman season.
As reported by ESPN.com, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has been quite impressed with Bridgewater so far and promised that he would get plenty of first-team reps during OTAs.
Vikings.com writer Mike Wobschall wrote how impressive Bridgewater looked during the Vikings rookie minicamp in May.
Though Bridgewater missed two days of OTAs last week to be at a rookie photo shoot, he was very impressive during the first day, completing a bomb to Greg Jennings, among other notable plays. When it comes to presence and composure, so far Bridgewater is every bit as advertised.
For Vikings fans, quarterback is a position they shouldn't sweat over. The Vikings know what they have in Matt Cassel. He's a veteran who can handle the starting role when called upon. In Bridgewater, they have their future franchise quarterback.
How soon that future begins remains to be seen.
Greg Jennings Looks Like a No. 1 Receiver
It probably didn't take Greg Jennings long during the 2013 season to realize he wasn't catching passes from Aaron Rodgers anymore.
The Vikings signed Jennings to a five-year, $47.5 million deal in March of 2013 to help fill the void the team had at receiver after trading away Percy Harvin.
Jennings, slowed by a new system and the Vikings revolving door at quarterback, took awhile to get going during the 2013 season, catching just 14 passes in the first quarter of the season.
By the end of the year Jennings had developed a nice chemistry with Matt Cassel and finished with decent numbers, but nothing outrageous for a number one receiver. He ended the year with 68 catches for 804 yards and four touchdowns.
The numbers were okay, but far from Jennings' big year with the Green Bay Packers, where he had five seasons with over 900 yards and averaged over nine touchdowns a year for a five-year stretch.
Still just 30 years old, the Vikings are hoping that year two in Minnesota sees Jennings put up bigger numbers. Norv Turner offenses almost always have a lead receiver with over 1,000 yards, and Jennings could be that player in 2014.
As reported by Mike Wobschall with Vikings.com, Jennings certainly looked the part during the Vikings first OTAs. Jennings is an expert route runner who knows exactly when to break off patterns and how to hide underneath zone coverages. He has excellent hands and is a crafty runner after the catch.
Jennings will also be a huge asset in helping the Vikings mercurial second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson learn the tricks of the trade.
Whoever ends up playing quarterback for the Vikings in 2014 will have his number one receiver in Greg Jennings.