Offensive line coach Tony Sparano and tight ends coach Pat Shurmur were hired by Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer to improve the 29th ranked offense. Both men have offensive coordinator and head coaching experience that Zimmer hopes will breathe new life, or at least add a few fresh ideas to Norv Turner’s Air Coryell scheme.
Zimmer said last month at an NFL owners meeting that Turner is very open to new ideas and has modified his traditional system over the years.
“Norv has changed a lot,” Zimmer said. “I used to go play against him a long time ago. Over the course of the years, a lot of the no-huddle, the [shot]gun stuff, the zone read, those are all new things. Norv is not hard-headed. I’m probably more hard-headed defensively than he is offensively.”
Turner’s system will likely continue to evolve as they incorporate a few wrinkles from Shurmur’s West Coast background and Sparano’s physical pound it style. While a total revamp of the offense is not on the forecast, here are five things to anticipate in 2016.
1) A hard-nosed attitude
Sparano likes to play a physical style of offense that features a power concept also known as a man blocking scheme. With the addition of two big maulers on the offensive line in Alex Boone and Andre Smith acquired via free agency, the Vikings figure to once again feature a dominant running attack. It would also come as no surprise if the Vikings drafted more help up front in the same tough-guy mold Sparano favors.
Sparano worked with Zimmer under Bill Parcels, so, it’s only natural that their coaching philosophy and style would reflect some similarities. Like Zimmer, Sparano places an emphases on teaching first. He’s a hands-on coach who earns respect from his team by developing them as players and leaders with no-nonsense straight forwardness. Vikings Nation will be eager to watch Sparano bring a little bit of that Parcells/Zimmer coaching approach to the offensive side of the ball. If he can turn a finesse player like left tackle Matt Kalil into a physical nasty tough guy, his remixed offensive line will take a major step forward in 2016.
Sparano’s knowledge as a respected positions coach may not be as visible from a schematic sense over Jeff Davidson’s multi dimensional zone and man scheme, but the added competition and a renewed toughness up front will not go unnoticed.
2) Utilizing the tight ends
Pat Shumur helped orchestrate the Chip Kelly Philadelphia Eagles Oregon inspired fast-paced offensive attack from 2013-2015. Without a mobile quarterback in Nick Foles or Sam Bradford, Shumur was challenged to incorporate a lot of the traditional NFL West Coast staples. The system lacked a true fullback, relied on a big athletic offense line, and succeeded with and without a speedy receiver. Shurmur’s vision to feature athletic backs and tight ends, helped prove that his system didn’t need a running quarterback for it to work in the NFL.
The Eagles were a prolific scoring machine racking up 442 points in 2013, 474 points in 2014, and 377 points in 2015 in route to setting new team records in just about every statistical category. Shurmur is an aggressive, offensive minded coach who doesn’t like to settle for field goals. Historically, a big part of his attack has been focused around the tight end position. As a position coach for the Eagles from 1999-2005, Shurmur helped develop undrafted Chad Lewis into a Pro Bowl tight end.
Last season for the Eagles, tight end Zach Ertz caught 75 balls on 112 targets for 853 yards. Fellow tight end Brent Celek grab 27 receptions on 35 targets for 398 yards. Running backs Darren Sproles, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews combined for 119 receptions. If Shumur has any input whatsoever in the Vikings’ game plan, tight end Kyle Rudolph, MyCole Pruitt and running back Jerick McKinnon might be on the verge of a monster season.
3) Developing a rhythm for Teddy Bridgewater
I realize Shumur’s title is only tight ends coach, but with Norv Turner’s contract expiring at the end of 2016, Zimmer must have promised Shurmur something special in order to get him to end his job search after one stop in Minnesota. Bank on Shurmur adding his two cents to the offense.
If Shurmur can successfully add West Coast concepts to Chip Kelly’s wide open Oregon scheme, he probably also has Zimmer’s green light to add a few high percentage timing elements to Turner’s Air Coryell system. As the offensive coordinator, Turner will continue calling the plays much like Chip Kelly did in Philadelphia, but Shurmur’s ideas could translate to a more suitable game plan for Bridgewater’s skill set.
Last season, the Shurmur/Kelly system managed to work the ball regularly to wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews caught 85 ball for 997 yards and 8 touchdowns. Matthews is not a speedster nor does he have outstanding explosiveness off the line or after the catch. So, the perceived notion that the Vikings must address the wide receiver position in the first-round might be a bit misleading if Shurmur has any influence in the offensive makeup. Michael Thomas or Rashard Higgins in the second or third-round could play a very similar roll as Matthews did for the Eagles a season ago. And, who’s to say that Stefon Diggs can’t explode for 82 receptions as DeSean Jackson did in 2013. Jackson’s best season in the NFL just happened to be with Shurmur.
4) Resourcefulness in the Red Zone
Whether Turner’s role changes much, or whether his offensive staff simply gains two high profile members, you can count on Zimmer not resting on an offensive attack that doesn’t put points on the board. The avenues are now in place for Turner to have plenty of resourcefulness at his fingertips.
We’ve talked about Shurmur’s aggressive scoring mentality above, but Sparano has also shown a willingness to manufacture points any way possible. In 2008, the Miami Dolphins excited a fan base with a dynamic Red Zone concoction called the Wildcat. Ronnie Brown and this new found fade was successful primarily because it was a game of numbers: subtract the quarterback and there’s and extra blocker and less time wasted with a handoff. Teams had to spend plenty of time preparing for it each week heading up to a Dolphins game.
If Sparano gets his input, there is no question in my mind he would snap the ball directly to Cordarrelle Patterson and let his big offensive lineman put a hat on a hat and play power football. Turner may never actually uses Patterson in the Wildcat, but the wealth of ingenuity to create unique advantages based on a player’s skill set (or better known as gadget plays), may not be too far off in the distant future; especially in the red zone.
5) It’s go time for Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater and Norv Turner
No more excuses is the message Zimmer is sending out this off-season. Are his words just a friendly reminder, or could they be an ultimatum of sorts? There’s no doubt in my mind Zimmer means business, and this is certainly an important year to say the least for all three guys.
Turner now has an all-star staff; Peterson has a revamped offensive line; and Bridgewater is days away from gaining a new pass catcher. The window is wide open for this team to make a deep playoff run. If the continuity and chemistry can blend together between the coaches and players, great things will be on the horizon for the Vikings.