5 Ways Sparano And Shurmur Will Shape The Offense

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.

[quote_box_center]”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.”[/quote_box_center]

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.

Show More

Carl Knowles

Carl Knowles (Contributor) is a former member of the Professional Bowler Association and an avid lifelong Vikings fan. When he is not bowling you can find him on websites and forum pages sharing his creative insight and enthusiasm for the Minnesota Vikings any chance he gets. Carl was a Phoenix Institute of Technology and Purdue University standout who currently enjoys the challenge of being a graphic director in the printing business. You can follow him on twitter @carlknowles_vt.

Related Articles


  1. Great article Carl! You make some great points.The one thing that bothers me a little is that Norv may sit down and listen to what Shurmur/Sporano have to say,but will he actually call those plays in a game?
    I have a feeling that Norv may start the season on a short leash,and if the offensive can’t score TDs in the red zone then Norv might be singing “Bye bye Blackbird”.

  2. Thanks for writing this. I’ve been waiting for someone to do something like this.

    One thing that I keep reminding myself to ask is the flip side of this equation. We’ve all speculated a lot on what Sparano and Shurmur are going to add to Norv’s offense – meaning that Norv is likely to give up aspects of his offense in order to accommodate these other two coaches’ ideas. If we follow Zimmer’s precedent for rationale, tho, we have to also consider that: Zimmer is open to competition even amongst his coaches (as long as it’s solidly within a team oriented context); and that Zimmer typically is quite good at identifying what players (coaches??) are good at, and then putting them in position to succeed/surrounding them with pieces that magnifies their strengths. So the flipside question I’m wondering about is: in what way does the skillsets of Sparano and Shurmur free or facilitate Norv and his offense to be even better?

    Zimmer is on record recently stating that he still believes Norv’s offense puts significant pressure on all defenses. As a defensive coach, you would think that Zimmer would be quick to pull the plug on an offensive system that doesn’t challenge defenses. In other words, I genuinely don’t think this is necessarily a warning shot over Norv’s bow. Somehow I believe we have to consider the possibility that somehow adding Sparano and Shurmur are keys to making Norv better, and not because they’re going to take away from his offense and add new stuff but because they are going to adapt and innovate a system that Zimmer clearly believes in.


    1. I actually agree with you somewhat, and my thoughts personally are that both of those things are happening around norv. I think Zim will give him a very honest real chance to figure it out, and I think he really was giving him the tools to do with this all star coaching staff. But I think he is also a smart enough guy to set himself up just in case the best doesn’t happen. I try not to hate on norv too much, there areally a lot of key players that are very young, and it just takes time. Also the Vikings use a system designed to be a little slower, more physical, and takes time off the clock. We use it because of the defense we have. It’s a good thing, but it can hinder an OC when the offense isn’t truly the focus of a team.

  3. I haven’t heard anybody express the possibility that Norv is voluntarily retiring after this year. It may be that Zimmer is having these guys interpret their offenses into the language of Norv’s system so next year the transition is smooth for Teddy and the rest of the guys. Zimmer likes competition and maybe this is his way of finding the right OC.

  4. Great piece Carl! I sure can’t wait for this season to begin. I haven’t been this optimistic since I don’t know when, maybe 1975 or ’76? (I’m old).
    On paper, it looks like we’ve given Teddy a second or two more time in the pocket by beefing up the O-line and I especially like your thought on Shurmur getting “a green light to add a few high percentage timing elements to Turner’s Air Coryell system.”
    After seeing Teddy complete only 2 passes over 30 yards last year, i think it is clear that he just doesn’t have a long ball. Very unfortunate but that is the only negative i see with his skill set. I like him a lot and truly believe he can lead this team to a Super Bowl victory with the proper game planning.
    Again, that was a great article Carl, thanks for writing it.

  5. How many chefs can you have in the kitchen and still get a great meal? One worries a bit–

    1. Great question. I trust Zimmer to make sure these guys come up with the optimal approach. Seems like Zim woud have had to have some koind of workable plan in mind at the time Shurmer and Sparano were hired. I have faith in our coach.

    2. I used to work at a top local restaurant, and the answer is: a lot, when you’ve got a head chef who understands the talents of everyone else and is a maestro of the kitchen. Amazing things happen when you get a bunch of really talented chefs together, you just need to be sure to have that one person who knits them all together and keeps them aligned.

  6. One of the best articles of the offseason. As far as I can tell, this is the definitive dissection of how the coaching staff changes and the free agent manueverings may coalesce into a “new” look offense. Well done, Carl. Much appreciated.

  7. Great piece, but I stll have one burning question…who will stop Norv from calling a run up the middle for no gain on every first down?

    1. Mike Zimmer. He is putting his finger prints on the offense with the hiring of Shurmur and Sparano. Zimmer will probably be ok running the ball early on in the season, but at some point he will want to slowly open things up more.

  8. I really liked the past where you called Kalil a “finesse player”….. My guess is that you were being nice using the word ” finesse ” when describing Kalil, instead of using a weird that’s more commonly associated with a cat, a willow or a certain body part on a woman.