Vikings coordinators: Identity of the offense, history of Vikings’ kicker problems and more
Every Thursday during the regular season (when the Minnesota Vikings play a Sunday game) the three coordinators speak to the media. Here’s a few highlights from this week’s press conferences:
Defensive coordinator George Edwards
Q: What have you seen from Ryan Tannehill since he returned from injury?
A: They’re a different offense in there, without a doubt. He looks like he’s making smart decisions is the biggest thing you see. They don’t have a lot of turnovers, there defense has been getting turnovers, and I think that’s a credit to his decision making. Not throwing a lot of interceptions, they haven’t been turning the ball over fumble wise and those kind of things. They like it offensively with him in there, he’s a lot more comfortable with what they’re expecting and what they’re doing from situation to situation, so we’ll have our work cut out for us this weekend. Hopefully we can affect him.
Q: Miami doesn’t have many players with big numbers, so what stands out to you about their offense?
A: Again, it’s the big, explosive plays. If you look on first and second down, they’ve got some big passes that they’ve thrown down the field, they’ve got some big runs that they’ve had happen. Third down in the similar situational stuff they’re not ranked as high as a lot of teams in the league, but you look at their big play ability, they are making some big plays in the early downs.
Q: Even though Xavier Rhodes has struggled with injuries, so you still see the same player that he’s been the last three seasons?
A: Yeah, Xavier has been a pretty consistent performer for us each week. We’ve matched him on different guys from week to week, so I think that’s a part of his preparation from week to week. But he’s working, he looks like he feels a lot more comfortable with what we’re doing schematically and the things that we’re asking him to do. We just look for him to hopefully go out this weekend and do the same thing.
Q: Do you think that he’s grown more comfortable after a rocky start at the beginning of the year when the defense was having more breakdowns?
A: Yeah, I don’t think it was one individual that was involved in the breakdown. I think it was us collectively as coaches and as a team defensively, some of the things that we were doing and what the offense was doing to attack us schematically. But I think he’s bounced back, I think we all have as far as what we’re anticipating going into games. Because it’s such a copycat league you’re going to see those same plays as you keep progressing throughout the course of the season, and we have. That’s been a big proponent of him is turning it around and paying attention to the details of what we’re doing from week to week.
Q: How have you seen Jayron Kearse handle his growing responsibilities, including playing some corner?
A: He’s stepped in, he’s done that in the past for us and he’s doing it now, where in certain situations we’ve got him involved at different positions in the secondary. He’s shown the ability to be able to handle that, which is good for us.
Q: Why is Kearse so versatile?
A: He’s got exceptional height and length, and I think being able to reach out and touch receivers especially in the red zone, trying to throw the ball over him in situations [is difficult]. We’ve played him, matching him up on different tight ends from week to week when they come out in two tight end formations or personnel groupings. I think it’s his ability to understand what we’re doing schematically and being able to take advantage of his skill set.
Q: Where has Mackensie Alexander progressed the most this year?
A: I think he’s done a good job of understanding what we’re asking him to do. That position takes a lot of communication, a lot of pass-offs going underneath, there’s a lot of exceptions to things from week to week that teams do to affect the nickel. He’s done a good job of paying attention to the details of those things of what we’re asking him to do, and he’s been out there and he’s competed every week. We look for him to continue to progress and hopefully finish strong here at the end of the season.
Interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski
Q: What has this week been like for you?
A: All of us, it’s been a little bit different and we are working through it. We are charged with winning a game on Sunday. Time doesn’t stop for anybody. I’ve been really impressed with our players. I’ve been really impressed with our assistant coaches. We are kind of charging forward and putting a game plan together.
Q: How tough is the transition especially during a short week?
A: I mean it’s tough, but again we are so in the moment and so in the thick of this thing and working forward. Again, I go back to I am lucky I have some really good assistant coaches that can help navigate through this. Our goal is to play well on Sunday. Play complementary football for this team and come out of here with a win.
Q: Can you go through the timeline from landing early Tuesday to hearing about the changes to putting together a game plan?
A: It was a blur because we got in pretty late. Coach [Zimmer] made a decision, we moved on. I respect his decision. As a staff we made the decision. There we are Tuesday morning, we have to go. We moved on and got to planning mode immediately.
Q: How have you potentially prepared to be a play caller throughout your career working with different positions and having so much experience?
A: As an assistant coach, I think every assistant coach and probably every fan is calling the plays with the play caller. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. We’re up there, you’re always thinking about what you may be calling in that situation. I’ve tried to do that since day one as a coach. I think that is incumbent upon you to take yourself through what you may do here. The play calling thing, I am going again to rely on, we have a great staff and we have good players and to steal a line from Pat Shurmur, “It’s about the players, not the plays.” It’s something that we are going to work on on Sunday and let it go.
Q: How much does your experience with Pat Shurmur influence how you may perform as a coordinator?
A: I hope my experience with all the guys I’ve worked with over the years has shaped me into the coach I am. You can go all the way back to coach [Brad] Childress and Darrell Bevell. I hope I’m learning something every day, quite honestly. The staff we have now I have truly learned something from those guys every day. I have a ton of great influencers that have shaped me into who I am today and I hope to be the coach that they’ve, I’ve learned from them and Pat is certainly one of those guys I learned from.
Q: How much might your philosophy be different than John DeFilippo? Is it possible to change much this late in the season?
A: I think that’s something that remains to be seen. We are not looking to change anything. We are looking to put together a game plan that gives us some success on Sunday, plays complementary football, plays the style of football that I know that we can play here and not really worry about what it is or isn’t.
Q: What do you want the identity of this offense to be?
A: That is a good question. I think coach Zimmer has been pretty clear since he’s been here what he wants in his offense. It is Minnesota Vikings offense that is obviously a physical group. It really just matches the players that coach Zimmer and Rick [Spielman] have acquired here. It’s a physical group, it’s a smart group that hopefully we are versatile enough to make it hard on the defense.
Q: What kind of input has coach Zimmer he throughout this process?
A: He’s been great. Coach has always been that way. I’ve been lucky, we’ve been lucky. We go out there to OTAs in the spring and you’re going against his defense every day and if you want to get good as an offense, you go against good. We’ve had a lot of experience going against him. He’s always been eager to help give us an idea what hurts his defense, what he’s seeing. He’s been awesome helping out at practice and in the meeting rooms. It’s something I look forward to because at this point, we are all hands on deck because we’re a little short-handed. Coach is really helping us out.
Q: How will Kirk Cousins potentially having a bigger voice in the offense translate to more success with the team?
A: Good question. I think Kirk has always been vocal about what he likes, what he doesn’t like. I’ve been encouraged him to continue to do that. On that note, we are really fortunate to have a lot of smart players here. Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, you can go across the board. I am open to suggestions from all of those guys. They are the ones out there doing it. I have a really good dialogue, we as a staff have a really good dialogue with those guys and I hope that continues.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer
Q: Were you able to get any clarity on the blocked field goal call or no call?
A: I think at the end of the day all I probably can say is that it was illegal. I’m sure the young man was doing what he was taught to do. They got away with it. It was a missed call and that happens in football. To be quite honest, that’s a hard call to make and they missed it. This week we had a field-goal meeting this morning, I showed it. I told them it’s a learning moment. How do we need to handle it, we can’t always have the official bail us out. We got do a better job protecting, we got to do a better job getting the ball up in the air, and we got to make every kick that we’re asked to make. At the end of the day we’re making no excuses, we’re going to move on, and be better because of it.
Q: What stands out to you about the Dolphins special teams?
A: They rush the punt really well. Ever since Jakeem Grant got hurt they’ve been more of a punt rush focus. They line up eight in the box and they’re looping guys, reverse twist-twist, inside twist, snapper picks, you name it and they’ve done it and they do it really, really well. They have a lot of confidence in it. That’s going to be a big challenge for our punt team Sunday afternoon protecting the launch point, Matt [Wile] getting a good punt out of their and our gunners going down and making plays.
Q: When you see what Daniel Carlson has done in Oakland, does that not surprise you?
A: No, that doesn’t surprise me. But some of the things I know they’ve been talking about it is technique on some of that. He was really long when he got here and we worked really hard all spring and all summer long making him a compact approach. I think he had one bad game and it was more mental than physical. He’s a really good kicker and I’m happy for him. I’m proud of him. I’m not one of those guys that’s going to be spiteful, “He let us down at Green Bay. I hope he has a terrible career.” That’s not who I am. I mean he’s a good kid, he works hard. I wish him the best, unless we play him of course.
Q: Is there a mental aspect to the kicking game that has to deal with the franchise?
A: I don’t think so. If you remember, Blair Walsh was a 60 percent kicker his senior year and he went to the Pro Bowl his rookie year. He had a phenomenal year and his second year was pretty good even though he got banged up. What happened with Blair in my opinion is he lost a lot of weight trying to be more fit and when he lost the weight, he lost the strength. He changed his technique and then he wasn’t as successful. That’s something I tried to stop and I didn’t get it stopped. That was part of it and the other thing that people forget, in the playoff game against New Orleans we had a 49- and a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter. That would have been the narrative had we not had the Minneapolis Miracle and I’m glad we did, obviously, we won the game. We had two huge field goals in the fourth quarter that people would’ve remembered those forever but it gets lost in the shuffle. That’s fine, that’s great, that’s football. Should we be better than we are? Yeah, of course. Of course. I don’t think I’m doing anything different than a lot of other coaches. In fact I think I understand the craft of kicking a lot better than most coaches and I’m trying not to over-coach, certainly not over-coaching Dan Bailey. It’s the product of the whole battery working together and being more consistent and that includes the snapper, the holder, and the kicker and not to make excuses they haven’t worked together long enough. Neither had Carlson out in Oakland, he’s just handling it better. We just got to go out and make kicks down the stretch and do what our team asks us to do to help win games. I’m not making any excuses.
Q: How much time do you spend with your specialist just on the mental side?
A: I think dealing with a young kicker like Daniel [Carlson] was different than dealing with a veteran kicker like Dan [Bailey] to be quite honest with you. When Dan first got here I wanted to learn his technique, I wanted to learn how he’s been successful in his career, and then we try to harness that and get as close to that as possible to that in practice and then on to the game. Those are the things we talk about, but I’m not a mental coach. I mean if a guy needs a mental coach he needs to go elsewhere. In fact, I’d be the last guy, you can ask my kids that. I’d be the last guy to be a mental coach expert. I’m a little emotional and get a little fired up, but at the end of the day if that’s what a young man needs he got to find that outside of the building. I’m here to coach football.