5 Challenges Bill Musgrave Faces as New Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator
The Minnesota Vikings have decided to go in a new direction at offensive coordinator by hiring Bill Musgrave, who was Atlanta's quarterbacks coach/assistant head coach last season.
The successful development of Matt Ryan and the overall success of the Falcons have the Vikings and their fans licking their chops at the possibility of points in the upcoming season (The Vikings averaged only 16.9 last year).
Those fans are ready for a successful offense without having to sell their souls and cheer for Old No. 4, and landing the highly sought after Musgrave was a huge step in the right direction.
It won't be all fun and games for Musgrave, though, and he'll have to help the offense over some hurdles if he wants to help them compete in a division with the Super Bowl Champion Packers, the Bears that lost to the Packers in the NFC Championship, and the quickly rising Lions.
With everyone's head still spinning from the hyper-speed free agency period, Musgrave is going to have to sort through the intense mess that is training camp in a cramped time period. Out of the multiple challenges he will face, five really seem to stand out.
5: Start Developing Christian Ponder
It doesn't matter when they were drafted, any rookie quarterback has a whole lot to learn to make a successful transition to the NFL.
Ponder will need help from all of his coaches to make it as the Vikings quarterback of the future, but the Vikings will surely lean on Musgrave to groom him into the star they hope he'll be
There is an argument to be made that Ponder can be successful in the NFL, and he was a great ACC quarterback just like Matt Ryan was, so Musgrave is a good man for the job.
Still, since Ponder isn't quite as naturally talented as Ryan, it will take solid instruction as well as patience and a good relationship between the two for him to turn into Musgrave's second success story.
With everything else going on in this crazy off-season, Musgrave will have to make sure to find the time to help Ponder get started on the right foot. Seeing that their success or failure will be directly linked to one another, this will be a top priority for the new coach.
4: Utilizing McNabb's Skill Set Properly
No. 5 is finally in town and he gives the Vikings playoff hopes, but he'll have to work with Musgrave to fulfill those hopes.
Think about it, McNabb's playing style is much different than Matt Ryan's, but that's what Musgrave has gotten used to over the last three years.
It is true that in the last couple of years McNabb has started to fade away from scrambling and moving towards being a somewhat mobile pocket passer like Ryan, but his production has faded from Pro Bowl caliber to sub-mediocre in the process.
While Vikings fans have grown somewhat accustomed to hit and miss quarterback play, Musgrave and McNabb could remind them how solid consistent quarterback play looks if McNabb returns to his old ways. While Donovan might be getting older, he's still only 34, David Garrard is just one year younger and he sure moves around well.
If Musgrave can find ways to get McNabb moving around in the pocket, rolling out, and allow him to use his scrambling ability, the Vikings offense should be successful.
After all, defending against a dual-threat quarterback is much harder than defending a pocket passer; ask the rest of the NFC East how fun McNabb was to play against in his prime.
3: Teach a New Offense in a Tiny Time Frame
The Vikings offense has run Darrell Bevell's version of the West Coast Offense since 2006, but now it's time for the switch to Musgrave's new scheme.
According to an 1500 ESPN Twin Cities article, the offense will be a unique scheme with a twist here and there based off of Musgrave's coaching history. The article quoted Musgrave describing his offense:
"It will have its roots in language, I'm sure, from my history with coach (Mike) Shanahan and most recently from my experience with (Falcons offensive coordinator) Mike Mularkey. There will be some language that our guys will recognize off the bat, because it will have some West Coast roots, and it will have some formations and protections that are more along the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense, which we ran down here in Atlanta with Coach Mularkey."
Even though the quote seems to imply that the offense is a West Coast scheme at its core, that really isn't true. It sounds like there will be plenty of new language, terminology, and formations for the players to learn.
As a matter of fact, six months later in a very good interview conducted by the Daily Norseman, Musgrave identified his scheme as a Ron Erhardt-style system. In this interview, Musgrave described the history of his offense:
"Well, our language is based more on the Ron Erhardt system. Of the three different systems that have withstood the test of time in the NFL, you could count Don Coryell's number system, of course Paul Brown and Bill Walsh's West Coast offense system, and Ron Erhardt's system, which has been run for years, with the Pittsburgh Steelers, now with Coach (Ken) Whisenhunt in Arizona, of course it's being run in Atlanta with Mike Mularkey, and portions of it are being implemented in New England, and with the Giants. So our offense will be rooted in that base language."
While it is exciting for fans to imagine the Vikings joining that list of successful teams who run Erhardt's style of offense, the team still has to learn it and execute it properly every Sunday.
All the players are professionals and they will work hard, at least they should, but it will be Musgrave's job to make sure to get it down pat.
2: Figure out Which Receivers to Use and How to Use Them
The Vikings have developed a habit of obtaining hit-or-miss receivers over the last few years. As the new Offensive Coordinator, it will be Musgrave's job to sort out the hits from the misses, or better yet turn some of those misses into hits, too.
After losing Sidney Rice to Seattle, the Vikings will need find a new primary threat along with a true vertical threat, a slot receiver or two, and some quality depth. In other words, the Vikings will have to form a solid receiving corps with the men they have.
The good news for Musgrave is that the players on the roster are plenty good to supply McNabb with a dangerous group of targets.
As of right now, the Vikings have 11 receivers on the roster. Out of these 11, a maximum of six will see any sort of significant time on the field. Even with six, only four or maybe five of them will see significant time if there are no injuries or blowout games.
Here are the 11 players the Vikings will have to chop down to six (maybe seven) for the final roster.
Out of this list, Arceneaux, Burton, Holmes, Iglesias, and Dominique Johnson will have the hardest time making the cut, but all of them are excellent candidates for the practice squad. At the same time, only Berrian, Camarillo, Harvin, and Jenkins are surefire final-roster members, so two spots are up for grabs.
The two favorites for those spots are probably Aromashodu and Jaymar Johnson, but you never know.
Emmanuel Arceneaux has actually had a stellar two-year career in the CFL (147 catches, 2241 yards, and 13 TD's in 39 games) and if you watch the tape, he looks like the CFL's own version of Calvin Johnson.
He'll have a huge learning curve after crossing Canada's southern border, but at only 23, he could eventually become at least be a poor man's Megatron if his skills translate well into the NFL.
Still, Aromashodu has proven that he can be a dangerous receiver with Chicago and Jaymar Johnson has definitely paid his dues over the last two years while quickly improving so it will be hard for anyone to pass either of them on the depth chart.
Even though Frazier and the rest of the staff will all have a say in who makes the final cut, it will ultimately be up to Musgrave to decide who stays and who goes.
After making those tough decisions, he'll have to figure out how and when to use the guys he chooses in order to have a high functioning offense. All of the pieces are there, but putting them together won't be easy.
1: Field a Functional Offensive Line
It wasn't long ago that the Vikings had a top-notch offensive line centered around Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk.
Now Hutchinson is 33 years old and as good as he is, he still isn't in his prime anymore, McKinnie ate his way off of the roster, and Birk bolted for Baltimore a couple years back.
Bill Musgrave is going to have to find a way to pick up the pieces and cultivate some sort of formidable line if the Vikings want any chance at being a playoff team.
At center anything could happen, but odds are on John Sullivan starting, with the intriguing rookie Brandon Fusco breathing down his neck. Sullivan has had two years to claim the starting job for good, but he has been injury prone and had spotty play when he manages to stay on the field.
You have to give Sullivan the edge, though, because he has had flashes of brilliance and is obviously much more experienced than Fusco.
Jon Cooper may come into play due to his experience as Sullivan's backup, but he isn't quite starting material. Still, no matter who Musgrave decides on at center, there will be growing pains.
At left guard, Hutchinson has the spot locked down and will still be in Pro Bowl contention as usual, it would be a huge surprise if anyone else lines up left of center.
On the other side, Musgrave will again have a tough decision. The top two candidates will be Chris DeGeare and Anthony Herrera.
Herrera has been a valuable piece of the Vikings line wherever he's lined up for years, but he's coming off of a torn ACL and he already has eight years of NFL wear and tear on him at 31 years old.
Despite being a rookie, DeGeare did very well for himself last year and seems poised to be a valuable piece of the Vikings line for years to come. Musgrave will have to choose experience or potential here, and it will probably come down to whoever performs better at camp.
At left tackle the Vikings will finally line up somebody other than No. 74, but it will be interesting to see who the long-term replacement will be. The Vikings might have somebody in mind, seeing as they were rumored to be poised to let McKinnie go, but they also might have been so sick of him that they didn't even care.
After picking up ex-Colt Charlie Johnson, the Vikings added a very solid option, and he will very most likely start in the near future. For the long term, though, the drafting of DeMarcus Love out of Arkansas might have been a low-risk attempt at solving the problem. For going in the sixth round, he actually has a lot of upside.
Musgrave would be smart to go with Johnson for now, though, as he did a pretty good job at covering Peyton Manning's blindside for the last few years. McNabb needs all of the help he can get, and all indications are that Johnson has played quite well at training camp so far.
At right tackle, Phil Loadholt can hopefully overcome his nagging shoulder injury and continue to grow. He's still a solid prospect with plenty of upside. Otherwise, it's back to penalty-prone Ryan Cook, and that probably isn't a good thing, unless he's made drastic strides of improvement this offseason.
If Musgrave can figure out the center position and the right side of the line, the Vikings will automatically be a better football team.
It's more fair to say that it will be up to the offensive line coach Jeff Davidson to continue to develop the young talent while Musgrave works around the growing pains, but it will still be a challenge the new coordinator will face.