New Vikings offense has players’ heads ‘spinning’ but fosters excitement
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Each day the Minnesota Vikings come into the team’s facilities for minicamp this week, new pieces to the offensive and defensive systems are unveiled to them.
Like Christmas morning, the players get to see what new possibilities are ahead, particularly with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Turner is using the team’s voluntary minicamp this week to begin installing his offense. Piece by piece, the puzzle is unveiled to the Vikings.
"I think every day is a surprise when you open up that book and you get a look at the new install," quarterback Matt Cassel said. "You’re going, ‘OK, yeah, this is nice.’"
Minnesota has come together this week for a three-day voluntary minicamp, the first steps of initiating the players to new head coach Mike Zimmer’s expectations and Turner’s mind. The minicamp is one benefit to having a new coach, per NFL rules, and a way to hasten the cohesion between new coaches and players.
Turner is wasting no time in trying to get his offensive scheme and philosophies across to his new team.
"My head is spinning," receiver Greg Jennings said. "Even though the offense is coming and it’s starting to sink in, just with all the different change-ups we can present to the defense, the different looks, the different formations we can run the same play, the different variations that comes within the same play, your head is spinning at all times until you have it down.
"I don’t think anybody has it down better than Norv has it done. For the most part, it’s exciting to know that I’m going to have a guy that is going to teach me new things on how to be even better than I’ve been in the past and how to grow as a player and as a receiver."
Turner’s resume resonates with his new team.
With 23 years in the NFL as a head coach or offensive coordinator, Turner has worked with some of the league’s best players, coaxing Pro Bowl, league-leading seasons from quarterbacks to running backs, to tight ends and receivers.
He’s overseen a top-eight scoring offense 10 times. Running backs have led the league in rushing five times in Turner offenses. He’s had a receiver finish in the top five in the NFL in yards per catch 17 times, including each of the past six seasons.
"They weigh a ton," Jennings said of Turner’s credentials. "What he says you can pretty much stamp it in concrete. He’s one of those guys that’s not going to give you a bunch of leeway because his offense works. It’s proven and that’s one of his statements he makes. ‘Look guys, I’ve been around a little bit longer than most guys in this building and this has worked.’"
The Vikings return nearly every component of an offense that finished 13th in the league in yards gained and tied for 14th in points scored.
Even with the perplexing, seemingly weekly decisions at quarterback, Minnesota’s offense wasn’t the reason for its 5-10-1 record and ouster of head coach Leslie Frazier, and with him, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Turner’s offense is varied and more complex, according to Jennings.
"If last year’s offense was complicated, guys will struggle with this one for sure," Jennings said, adding: "More of everything. The variations from one play to the variations of how we can get to that one play, is a lot. I’m being a little sarcastic with this statement, but it almost equates to what we had last year. Just one play, it’s a lot."
Players are re-learning on the fly.
Even Jennings, entering his ninth NFL season, is adjusting to his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons and spending most of his time in a West Coast style offense.
"Literally everything is different," Jennings said. "The number system is completely opposite than the West Coast. Obviously, the concepts once they’re in, they’re similar. But the way those concepts are verbalized, the language is completely different. Literally I’ve had to erase everything that I’ve learned in the past and completely start from scratch, which is exciting because we’re all in the same boat."
Everyone is learning the changes, while Turner learns the strengths of his new players.
"Now, he’s very open-minded and willing to understand that when putting things on the field, guys are going to run routes differently than guys he’s had in the past," Jennings said. "Different body types, different kind of guys that we bring to the table so he has to make that adjustment. But as far as his offense, his offense isn’t going to change."
The terminology, at far as learning the system, is the biggest adjustment for the Vikings.
"I can’t say that there’s any surprises," Cassel said. "It’s just football and for us it’s about learning it — how they want to read certain progressions, how they want to go through certain reads, what are our checks and stuff like that. And then once you learn those little nuances, it makes you play that much quicker. Right now, I think all of us are just really trying to get the base of the system down."
In the meantime, there’s a bit of "head spinning" going on.
Follow Brian Hall on Twitter