Vikings coordinators: Irv Smith Jr., young receivers, new kicking coach and more
With organized team activities going on, the Minnesota Vikings’ assistant coaches had media availability Wednesday. Here’s a few highlights from those press conferences:
Defensive coordinator George Edwards
Q: What has Hercules Mata’afa done that has made him stand out at OTAs?
A: We’ve moved him to the three technique and he’s really embraced it. He is playing the run well, he has a good pad level. His quickness and his size rushing the pass rusher is really showing up in these first couple practices.
Q: Was his size concern one of the reasons people thought he should switch to linebacker?
A: Yes, but let me tell you, he ended up on injured reserve last year and he really worked his butt off throughout last season and this whole offseason getting prepared to go. He is feeling some good girth and it really hasn’t affected his play. So his quickness is really beneficial inside.
Q: What have you thought about Jayron Kearse moving to different spots?
A: Jayron has played underneath for us a lot in the last couple years in different packages that we’ve used playing at the safety. Being able to make that communication and transition from week to week has been a benefit for us because he matches up against tight ends underneath real good for us. He’s embraced that role for we just look for him to continue to develop.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski
Q: How do you think Irv Smith’s transition will be going up against physical capability?
A: Irv is doing a nice job. Like all of our young guys, he has a long way to go and that is why he is working really hard with coach [Brian] Pariani. It’s important for those guys and I think he understands that. He is a young man but he is older in how he acts and presents himself. He understands he has a ton of work to do in the run game and the pass game and certainly we thought enough of him and his skillset to get him up here and you could see today just putting him in some spots where he could go and make a play.
Q: With a full offseason now, how much do you think the playbook will change in those final three games as interim last season?
A: Our focus has really moved way past last season. We are onto 2019. We really aren’t looking back very much to be honest with you. We are really cognizant about what we are doing right now and what we are doing is building a foundation. The credit goes to our players who have been so receptive to what we have been trying to do. Go back to April 15 or whenever the players showed up here. They have been so receptive to building this thing, building the foundation. OTA five was part of it and there is some good and some stuff that we have to get back in there and work on.
Q: What specifically has really jumped out at you about Irv Smith Jr.?
A: With Irv, I just go back to I think he is 20 years old. I think it’s so impressive for a kid, and maybe it speaks to his program, it probably speaks to his parents, he is here and is very serious about minding his business. We have some fun with him and that but I am just impressed by the kid. He breaks the huddle, most of the time he knows what to do. He is playing fast. I could see a kid where he is young but I can see this kid developing into a veteran who knows what to do every single time. His skillset was put on display a little bit there. He is a threat in the pass game but we didn’t draft him just to be a threat in the pass game. He needs to be a complete tight end for us and across the board for every one of our players.
Q: Has Jordan Taylor done anything in particular to stand out?
A: Jordan has done a nice job. Again, consummate pro. I think it’s really nice to have a guy like Jordan in that room that has a head start a little bit on the system for those young guys around him so we are trying to nudge some of those young guys toward him. It’s not like Jordan has to tell them what to do, he can show them what to do. He’s been out in the field and I’ve been very impressed. You see the skillset again with Jordan with his size and length and speed. We are pretty happy to have him.
A: I do. I hope all of our players, there’s only 11 guys out there, and there is only five eligible and there is only one ball. We hope that we have a team, an offense, a unit that really is rooting for their teammates, supportive of their teammates. We talk a lot about that. We want great teammates here. That is the kind of people that coach Zimmer and Rick Spielman brought in here. Alexander fits in perfectly here with that.
Q: What does Laquon Treadwell need to do to take a step in year four?
A: Just like any other player. We made this point to our players earlier. We as coaches are giving them a few things each day to work on. Laquon is no different than any one of our players. There is certain things we point out on tape and we say, “X, Y or Z needs to get better.” Laquon is no different than any one of these guys I can tell you and you can go ask them. There is something that when they get out here, maybe it’s run blocking for a wide receiver, maybe it’s a specific route depth. I don’t think Laquon is any different than any of our guys. I hope each one of them walks out here with something they are trying to get better at.
Q: How does Sean Mannion look to you?
A: I see a pro. Sean, again, have enjoyed being around him. He came from a successful program last few years there. He is really a guy that I think fits in extremely well with Kirk, extremely well with the backups. A guy that I have enjoyed being around. He is a really smart guy and that room is an impressive room and he fits in really well in just his breadth of knowledge that he has brought to that room.
Q: What do you want to see from your young rookie wide receivers at this stage?
A: It’s hard for those guys. When they get here, we don’t slow down necessarily for them, we keep going. We don’t slow down. With some of the vets, we have an instillation schedule. Now, they are getting extra meeting time with their coaches so there is some catch-up there. There can be times, and our rookies are no different at any position than rookies across the league, there is a lot to intake. There is a lot when you get out here on the practice field. You break the huddle and you can see the computers working. For those guys, it’s important to stay in their book. I know that is cliché but that is the truth. They get extra work with their coaches. I know coach [Drew] Petzing works with those guys. Our guys which have been so impressed with our staff, they’re teachers. Nevermore is that evident than when they are with those rookies and trying to get them out here to practice and practice fast.
Q: What positions are the toughest at this stage to get aligned?
A: Tackle gets to line up either left or right so alignment isn’t hard for them. Wide receivers certainly. We do a lot formationally, so we challenge them so we do multiple personnel groupings. It’s not easy for those guys. I tip my cap to them. They are working their tails off at it. Certainly wide receivers, when we move them around the formation, the tailbacks need to know where to line up around the formation so that can be difficult early on in the process.
Q: What is the backup quarterback competition looking like so far?
A: I don’t know. I think right now our focus is out here at practice. Kirk is taking the reps with the ones. Beyond that, we are just letting it shake itself out and give guys reps and really what these guys know or what they need getting back to reps is they need opportunity. We are giving each of our players, whether at the quarterback position, running back position, it doesn’t matter. We are trying to give each of them a number of reps where they can show what they can do. Those decisions are so far away that we don’t really focus on them right now.
Q: What might be different for Kirk Cousins now from when he played in a different style offense before?
A: I know Kirk is coming into this year with a familiarity of our players, of his teammates. I think that is invaluable. That is wide receivers, that is tight ends, that is everybody. That element of having been through this with our guys is so important. I can tell you this is an evolving group of plays. We will get out of here, just going back to the foundation, we are starting from square one. We are putting the foundation together. Will we and can we evolve at different areas? Of course. But in OTA five, we are trying to get the base stuff taught, the base stuff learned and Kirk is doing a great job of that.
Special teams coordinator Marwin Maalouf
Q: What does Nate Kaeding bring to the staff?
A: Nate is a nine-year veteran. I’ve known him from playing against him over the years. He has done a really nice job as a kicker. I’ve gotten to know him on a personal level because we know some mutual people at Iowa. He is another set of eyes. He has done a real good job so far of communicating with players and making sure everybody is on the same page. I think that is really important that we are all talking the same language. He is somebody I could send with the specialists and I can concentrate of other aspects as well as the specialists.
Q: How important is it to have a guy that had been in a kicker’s shoes before and can help Dan Bailey?
A: Yeah, I think that is really important. Like I said, Nate has done it before. That is someone you can trust. That is experience that you can’t find just with any coach. So we have been lucky and he is local. It only takes him a few hours to get here. He’s with us a few days a week. He communicates constantly through e-mails, videos and everything like that. So he’s been great.
Q: How many candidates are in the mix for punt and kick return jobs?
A: A lot. A lot of guys who have done it. We will probably start pairing it down closer to training camp. I think guys’ roles start to define themselves at that point. There is a lot of guys that can do it, which is a good thing. That is a good problem to have. There is so many. All of them have done a really good job. [Chad] Beebe has been out there, Jordan Taylor, who has done it in games before. [Adam] Thielen has done it. We have a lot of options. It may come to a point where each one of those guys have a role depending on what the situation is on punt return.
Q: What do you think Ameer Abdullah can add to that?
A: He has done a good job as well. He hasn’t done punt returns in the past but that is something that he is practicing this offseason and he is improving everyday with it. The elements here you can’t mimic anywhere else. The wind that we get here in practice. If he can catch them here, he can catch them anywhere. His role is actually broadening. It’s getting bigger as a core player as well. His value, he is driving his own value up by possibly being a returner and being a core player which is great.
Q: What can guys show you to make a difference if they are not a returner?
A: We are working the core fundamentals which is what we have been doing in phase two since we’ve had little time on the field and phase three as well, which is great. They are all learning how to tackle. We had a tackling circuit today. Getting the offensive guys caught up with the defensive guys. And expanding their roles as much as possible. On punt return, if you’re not the returner, just like you said, you have to be rushing it, you have to be holding up. If you’re not the returner on kickoff returns, you have to be willing to front-line blockers, you have to be willing to back-end guys. They are all learning that which is great. Ameer is learning how to block on the front line. We can have a little bit of variety in everybody’s role. At least practicing the fundamentals in case they want to return.
Q: Does that surprise you when guys like Adam Thielen that have made a name for themselves that are still willing to help out in special teams?
A: He is a great example of what a pro is and how he started his career. If you ask him, he remembers. He’s like, “I remember special teams.” If anything, we have to pull him out of drills because he will be one of the first guys in there. His retention is really good when it comes to the fundamentals. It’s almost like you don’t have to coach him up. If anything, he is a really great example for those young guys. The guys that didn’t play special teams in college. Now this is Adam Thielen, this is what he’s done. This is his blocked punts. He’s been a core guy, he’s been a returner. This can be your way to build your career. That is an example that is priceless.
Transcripts provided by the Minnesota Vikings