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With Consistency on Defense Spielman Looks for Positive Changes on Offense

It's not secret that defense has been the identity of the Minnesota Vikings since Mike Zimmer took over the head coaching position back in 2014. That was his modus operandi when he came from Cincinnati and he's brought it to fruition highlighting players like Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph and Trae Waynes to anchor his defensive unit alongside incumbents like Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith.

On the flipside, the offensive side of the ball has been a bit more of an experiment. And that experiment underwent some more changes during this past offseason. New leadership in the coaching staff, new rookies in the fold and new offensive line looking to anchor and protect Kirk Cousins in his second season under center.

According the team's general manager, this is no surprise as they continue to look to solidify both sides of the ball.

"[Defense has] probably been the most consistent side of the ball for us," Rick Spielman confirmed. "That’s why our defense has been pretty consistent since Coach Zimmer has been here and we’ve built that up. The pieces that we have in place and everybody being on the same page right now that hopefully, we get to that point on the offensive side of the ball. Going into the draft and everything we’ve done from a player acquisition standpoint, it was very clear just like it is on defense. I know exactly what he wants in a defensive back, in a corner, in a safety, in a defensive lineman. We have a truly very clear understanding of what we’re looking for in that offensive line right now and the type of traits."

Spielman met the media earlier this week to preview Training Camp. You can see the video of his session below and the transcript is also below provided by the Vikings PR team...

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman

Exited to get started with training camp. I know after getting away from here for a little bit everyone was anxious to get back. It’s our second year here at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, and I can’t thank the ownership enough for providing all the resources necessary, especially during training camp, to get these guys back and to get them recovered as quickly as they can. It’s made a huge difference for us from that standpoint. I know last year, from a fan perspective, it was pretty special, having the fans out here for the first time. I know we had a lot of great crowds here last year. Expecting even bigger crowds this year. The passion, the energy that our fans bring on a daily basis is really felt and appreciated by our coaches and our players. We have a lot of great competition coming up at a lot of positions, and there will be a lot of difficult decisions to make once we get down to the 53 [man roster]. Excited about what the rookie class has shown so far through the OTAs and the offseason program, and looking forward to seeing if they can carry that over into training camp, but they made a lot of good progress. I know once the offseason started, Coach Zim (Mike Zimmer) really set the tone through the OTAs and through the minicamp. I know it started with the addition of the new offensive coaches that came aboard, led by Kevin Stefanski. I know what Zim wants in this football team. He wants a smart, high character, tough minded and physical football team, and I know that’s how we’ve always won games here. I know that’s what Coach Zim wants to make sure that we establish going into training camp. We also I think have a very unique group of players, not only that are truly passionate about what they do playing on the field, but they truly care for each other off the field and for each other in that locker room. Excited to get started and we’ll expect to have a very successful year coming up.

Q: With all the changes that have been made to the roster and coaching staff this offseason, how do you asses what you have done to improve this team?

A: I think with the addition of the new offensive coaches, and Kevin Stefanski, I can’t describe enough how unique he is. For a young guy that’s an up-and-comer and that is extremely intelligent, to want to get a Gary Kubiak, a Rico [Rick] Dennison, a Brian [Pariani] and a Klint [Kubiak] on this coaching staff. It’s a great resource for Kevin as he continues to grow in this profession. I know he understand what Coach Zimmer wants, he understands how we’re going to win football games, but you see that relationship and how that worked through the whole offseason. Not only what we had done through the OTAs and in minicamp, but also just going through our process as we’ve rebuilt some of the areas on this roster and added to this roster [and seeing] the contributions that some of those guys have made.

Q: Do you feel like you did everything that you wanted to do this offseason?

A: We’ll find out. I know we’re excited about how we ended the offseason, the progress that was made. The guys learning what I would call a new system from what they did last year, something that I think they were very familiar with from some of the things that we’ve done in the past. But there’s also a lot of new wrinkles to this, but I know that was all done in shorts. Now we get an opportunity to get started in pads here, I think on Sunday, and then start building up for that opener.

Q: How have you seen that relationship evolve in terms of the offensive philosophy between Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak?

A: I think the biggest thing is the communication amongst everybody, and the open mindedness. The one thing that I think will lead to our success this year is that there’s no egos up there. Everybody contributes, everybody has an opinion, and everybody’s opinion is heard. I know Coach Zimmer is in a lot of those offensive meetings, and they’re coming up with what’s best for this football team. I think the other critical thing is understanding the strengths of our players, what they do well, and being able to apply their strengths to what we want to run from an offensive scheme standpoint.

Q: How much of a sense of urgency is there considering there are a lot of players who are in their primes?

A: I don’t know if it’s any different from any other year. I mean, if you come in to a season without a sense of urgency, then you’re probably in the wrong business. I think every year if you talk to the 31 other team doing these opening day press conferences they’re probably expecting to go out there and win a championship, or else you shouldn’t be in this business. So the expectations or the pressure are no different than they are any other year. I know last year was disappointing from where we felt we were and where we ended up. I know we did a lot of things to try and correct those areas that we needed to address during the offseason, and I think we’ve accomplished that so far. But it’s yet to be determined, and a lot of that will be determined and established as we go through this training camp.

Q: How important is consistency? Kirk Cousins is back, the team is back in Eagan for another camp, Kevin Stefanski is back. That seems to make it easier.

A: Like I’ve said and like Coach Zimmer has said, it’s the second time around the track, so I think everybody already knows what it’s like to have a training camp here. I think Kirk is very familiar with the system, because that’s what he’s run a lot through his entire career. I think how we were able to adjust some of the physical traits we’re looking for up front from an offensive line standpoint to get a clear understanding of what their traits need to be to function in this offense, all that stuff. I think everybody was on the same page who went through this whole offseason. I think you start to see that come together. It’s not there yet and we got a long way to go, and we haven’t seen it in pads yet, but knock on wood that we’re able to stay healthy and not lose any critical pieces, and then let it continue to evolve. I know as disappointing as it was last year, there are a lot of people eager to get back and get after this thing. I know the potential that we have with this football team, and I know with Coach Zimmer leading us on the way that we’re very optimistic heading into this year.

Q: Last time out we talked to Kirk Cousins about his .500 record as a quarterback and the whole ‘next level’ narrative that’s been set throughout the offseason. Are there checkpoints for you during the preseason and training camp to evaluate that?

A: I think the coaches and him are in constant communication. I know there’s a lot of feedback back and forth. I know watching him just from an evaluation standpoint through the OTAs it was totally different than him coming in last year and trying to learn a whole new system. His comfort level, him understanding what’s being asked of him to do. They will do things to make sure that he is comfortable in the offense, that will fit his strengths as a quarterback. You can have all the gaudy stats in the world, but this business is always going to come down to wins and losses. We can have two 1,000-yard receivers and this and that but it’s always going to come down to wins and losses and I know Coach [Mike] Zimmer made it a point of emphasis through OTAs and his team meetings that we’re going to win games on how we win football games. It’s not going to be about stats or individual stats. It’s going to be about what we have to do every week to go out there and win football games. I know that’s the mindset of Coach Zim and that’s the mindset of this football team.

Q: There has been a lot of turnover on the offense staff, defensive staff has been intact for five years. How does that help them develop players on that side of the ball?

A: That’s probably been the most consistent side of the ball for us. That’s why our defense has been pretty consistent since Coach Zimmer has been here and we’ve built that up. The pieces that we have in place and everybody being on the same page right now that hopefully, we get to that point on the offensive side of the ball. Going into the draft and everything we’ve done from a player acquisition standpoint, it was very clear just like it is on defense. I know exactly what he wants in a defensive back, in a corner, in a safety, in a defensive lineman. We have a truly very clear understanding of what we’re looking for in that offensive line right now and the type of traits.

Q: You talked about anticipating tough decisions, what positions come to mind when you’re thinking about what could be the toughest?

A: Depending on where we’re at with the cornerback position, it’s going to be very deep. Defensive line is going to be very deep, there’s going to be a lot of great competition there. Some of the offensive lineman and some of the rookies coming in and how quickly they can adapt compared to some of the Vets upfront. The quarterback position behind Kirk [Cousins], between the three we have backing him up and who that will be. We’ve been impressed with [Sean] Mannion and [Kyle] Sloter and [Jake] Browning, that will be a fun competition to watch when we get going.

Q: What have you figured out with Austin Cutting?

A: I have been in contact with the Air Force Academy so it has been a process any time you're dealing in that situation. I got word last Wednesday that everything was going to go through. I know they have spoken about it with his obligations, but I know that we were very excited to finally get him here and get that resolved so now he can get into camp. That will be another very contested situation who are long snapper is going to be because McDermott has done a fantastic job since he has been here and Cutting has come in and done great so that will be a unique competition as well.

Q: Roc Thomas arrest and suspension. How does that play into things?

A: We base all of our decisions off football decisions, so we evaluate these guys from the minute they walk into our off season program. Where we are at the offensive linemen I wish I could say his name properly, but he showed up at our rookie tryout camp he was a tryout guy. We were monitoring him, we talked to him afterwards that we wanted to get him back at some point, so we kind of watched that progress and kind of monitored the situation in all the positions and decided to get him back here in camp. He knew that was coming because we had kept in contact with him and wanted to get him back here in training camp and from a football decision standpoint that's why it was made.

Q: What did you like about Tiano Pupungatoa?

A: He was an athletic kid that showed up and I know he is kind of a local type kid, but his preparation when he was here. At the end of Saturday night we have a big roster meeting with the coaches and the scouts and we evaluate all the tryout guys so we go through everybody and he was one of the guys that we definitely stared and wanted to get back and that we will get an opportunity to see him practice here. He's got some catching up to do because he missed all the off season but we felt that he was worth bringing back.

Q: How often do you have a conversation with a player after tryouts that you might want to get onto the roster?

A: We divide it up amongst George Paton, Ryan Monnens, and our pro scouts and we call every player that comes in for a tryout. We call their agents and we pull the guys aside that we may want to sign in the future. If we get a potential injury, guys that we already have on the list that were here for that rookie tryout camp. There is a couple guys that we are going to work out this week, one of them we have an interest in here for our rookie tryout camps, so it's a great tool for us to maybe uncover someone that got overlooked but also to kind of build that up. Right now every team has 90 men on their roster, so our street list isn't filled with a lot of great players out there that we had an interest in, but monitoring and that's why we brought them in for workouts. It gives us a tool as our coaches got to work with these guys for a couple days and we got to see them physically what they can do and how they acted in the building. We usually have seven or eight guys that we monitor once we come out if we don't sign them right after the rookie camp that we that we keep on our short lists and we keep in communication with them.

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