MANKATO, Minn. — Norv Turner is assessing the entire Minnesota Vikings’ offense as the team’s offensive coordinator, and one vital position group is becoming harder to play and judge.
Turner noted the difficulty playing offensive line in the NFL and matching up against exotic defensive alignments and defenses utilizing unique ways to keep offenses off balance.
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, known for his varied looks and aggressive blitzing, is one of the defensive minds who has forced the challenge on offense.
"Yeah, I’m proud of that too, by the way," Zimmer said Sunday, with a big smile. "It’s become such a passing league now that defenses have to figure out ways to affect the quarterback. I’ve always felt like that the way you affect the quarterback is by pressure and/or disguise or extra people dropping."
Zimmer brings the defensive versatility to the Vikings as a head coach and hopes to inflict the same difficulties on Minnesota’s opponents.
"As a defensive coach, we’re always trying to number one, we’re trying to attack weaknesses," Zimmer said. "We’re trying to attack protections which I think that’s a lot about what (Turner is) talking about because you can give them some different looks. A team that runs the ball very, very well it makes it a little bit more difficult to do some of those things because the more exotic you get, the less fundamental you get in your run-game defense. So that’s why we’ve been working real hard with the run game and the play actions off of it."
Turner has to adjust on the other side, with more defenses around the league following the trend of changing defensive alignments. Turner feels good about the possibilities for his offensive line, which returns all five starters from last season.
Left tackle Matt Kalil, left guard Charlie Johnson, center John Sullivan, right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt are entering their third season together and the group has started all but two games together the past two seasons.
"They’re good enough for us to go have success, and that’s our most important thing, to get five guys to go play together as a unit and play with high levels of consistency," Turner said on Saturday. "It’s becoming the hardest place in the league to play because obviously the pass rush has become such a big deal, the different schemes, the variety of schemes, so that group really has to work together. I think (offensive line coach) Jeff Davidson does a fantastic job with them and I’m confident that they will be a good group for us."
But Turner isn’t committing to the same five players starting this year. He’s intrigued by the entire group Minnesota has brought to training camp, including new players like fifth round draft pick David Yankey, veteran guard Vladimir Ducasse and undrafted rookie Anthony Richardson.
"Time together helps," Turner said of the Vikings returning last year’s starters. "But obviously in this league you’ve got to plug young players in. If a young player steps up and is capable, then that’s not going to be a deterrent to keep him from playing. I’ll say again, those five guys I’m very confident that they can play at a high level."
Meanwhile, Zimmer will keep trying to inflict harassment on opposing offensive lines.
"I think it does make it more difficult because the different types of looks you can get with the offensive line," Zimmer said. "That’s why, not just on the offensive line, but everywhere on our football team, we love to have smart guys. You can’t cover every little thing that’s going to go about in the course of a game. Things happen and guys have to be able to react quickly and think quickly on their feet.
"As I’ve said many, many times, a quote from Bill Parcels is, ‘Dumb players do dumb things, smart players very seldom do dumb things.’"
Patterson getting closer: Second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson participated in the team’s walk-through on Sunday, but was held out of the afternoon practice as he works his way back from a foot injury.
Patterson is considered day-to-day and Zimmer wasn’t sure if he would participate in Monday’s evening practice.
"He’ll probably stay with the walk-throughs for, I don’t know, maybe another day and then we’ll get going," Zimmer said.
Patterson spoke for the first time since the injury was revealed on Friday, and said he hurt his foot in the weeks leading up to training camp while training in California.
"I was down training and I think I was training a little too hard," Patterson said. "Just running a lot of routes and I think I just aggravated the foot a little bit and that was it."
Patterson said he returned to Minnesota early to have the foot checked out by Vikings’ head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman. Patterson continued to work with trainers on the side during Sunday’s afternoon practice.
"I want to say a couple of days," Patterson said of his timeline. "It’s feeling a lot better today than last week, so hopefully soon. I hope I’ll be practicing tomorrow. Just stick in the training room, trying to get better."
Patterson is expected to be a big part of offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense after breaking out late in his rookie season last year.
"It’s real tough man, being on the sideline, just watching those guys doing things you wish you could do," Patterson said. "But you know, I’m out there and I’m getting mental reps. I feel like I’m not missing anything but working with those guys and getting our chemistry back."
First day in pads: After two days of practicing in helmets in the afternoons, Minnesota had its first padded practice of training camp on Sunday.
"I’ve heard some comments from guys, ‘we get to put the pads on, we get to quit playing in underwear,’ and things like that," Zimmer said. "I tried to explain to the team yesterday that it’s important, and we’re going to be in pads, but it’s important that we take care of each other. We don’t want to be on the ground. We don’t want to be taking cheap shots at our football team. We want to still be disciplined and practice should be exactly the same as what we’ve been doing except it’s going to be a little bit more contact, and typically it’s up front.
"We finally get to play some bump and run today, which is good for us, because we need it. We need a lot of work at it. We need to work on offense, getting off the press and with the DBs getting techniques of doing that. Those are two big things and actually I’m probably looking more forward to that than the contact stuff, really."
The atmosphere changes with pads, an almost love-hate scenario for the players.
"There’s always an excitement in the air for the first day of pads," defensive end Brian Robison said. "After doing this for eight years, you also realize that this is probably the last day you’ll feel healthy. That’s always fun. But it’s always exciting to get the pads on and that’s when you really get to see what type of players you have."
Some friendly jabs at an old teammate: Robison was also asked what camp is like without defensive end Jared Allen, who signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason.
"I think we all noticed the first day in meetings that things were just kind of different," Robison said, before joking: "Bottom line is, he moved to another team in the division and I told him this about a week before we reported to camp that I hope he keeps his streak alive of not winning in Chicago."