Patient Vikings start to show offensive identity
The Minnesota Vikings have a lot of work to do before the regular season starts, particularly with their revamped offense.
But there were signs of progress during their exhibition game victory at Seattle during the weekend, and an identity under new coordinator Bill Musgrave has begun to emerge.
''Anytime you're complacent and think you've got it all figured out, that's when you're going to lose,'' wide receiver Percy Harvin said, adding: ''Still got a lot of time so we're going to get it done.''
The first-stringers still haven't produced a touchdown in two preseason games, spanning four series, but quarterback Donovan McNabb and the Vikings moved the ball against the Seahawks. They went from their own 1-yard line Saturday night to the Seattle 18 before settling for a field goal.
McNabb's throws were spread around, and that will probably be a season-long trend. When Musgrave was the quarterbacks coach in Atlanta, the Falcons used their tight ends and running backs as passing targets frequently, and they handed the ball to Michael Turner often as the featured runner.
Here, that's Adrian Peterson's role, of course.
But tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph, plus 13-year veteran Jim Kleinsasser, are certain to be integral parts of the offense. Peterson should see more passes come his way out of the backfield, with Toby Gerhart carving a niche for himself as the second running back.
''It's nice to be involved. I always pat the quarterback on the back when they check it down to us,'' Gerhart said after Saturday's game. ''We like it. It's just basically another carry for us.''
Harvin's explosiveness will be relied on, too.
''We're just taking what the defense gives you,'' McNabb said. ''You want to be smart with the ball, eliminate turnovers and try to give your team a great opportunity to win. But most importantly be aggressive and take shots when they're there.''
McNabb's protection from the offensive line will be one of the most critical issues for the Vikings to solve this season. There are several positions in front of him in flux, and perhaps because of that the passing game has been measured and safe during team drills in practices as well as the first two exhibition games - a lot of check-downs and dump-offs.
Still, McNabb went 6 for 8 for 81 yards in Seattle, so the Vikings aren't going to be disappointed if their scheme, especially in the early part of the season, appears dry.
''You want to have opportunities to spread the ball around. That's something I've been doing over my years, giving everybody an opportunity to contribute,'' McNabb said. ''If each and every guy has an opportunity to make catches and put pressure on defenses, we're doing our jobs and hopefully we'll come out with points.''
The Vikings resumed practice on Monday, preparing for their first home preseason game. They're putting in a real game plan for the first time this month, so the starting offense should have a more defined opportunity to develop a rhythm this Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys.
''Normally this is the game where we get out there and play and get a better flow for things,'' Peterson said. ''I'm excited just to see how he operate once we touch the field.''
Head coach Leslie Frazier has raved about Musgrave's relationship with McNabb.
''The fact that Donovan played so well on Saturday has a lot to do with Bill Musgrave, just understanding Donovan's background, playing in a similar system himself and knowing how to communicate to quarterbacks,'' Frazier said. ''Bill has put together a quarterback-friendly offense, and Donovan is going to the beneficiary of that as well as our team in the long run.''
The difference with Musgrave's plan and the West Coast-style system ran under head coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is that this scheme is harder to define - and less defined.
Here's one example: Bernard Berrian is the team's one true deep threat as a wide receiver, so given that and the protection challenge McNabb could face the Vikings aren't headed toward a season with a lot of deep throws.
''There are a lot of different ways to have success in our league, and our philosophy is to do what's going to maximize the talent that we have,'' Frazier said. ''We do have a system but we're not necessarily married to, `You've got to do it this way versus that way.' We want to do what's best for our players.''
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