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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Five takeaways from Indy: Vikings leave door open for veterans to return

By Andrew Krammer

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was relaxed and loose as he addressed the media at the NFL scouting combine last week. Coming off an 11-5 season and division title, the Minnesota Vikings started to realize the potential of a young and talented roster. But much of the focus landed on a handful of veterans as free agency approaches before April’s draft.

Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman each spoke at the team’s hotel in Indianapolis and inside Lucas Oil Stadium, providing some insight on a number of offseason storylines. Here are five takeaways from the Vikings’ media sessions at the annual combine.

A budding young team, the Vikings leave the door open for veterans to return in 2016.

What a difference a year made for receiver Mike Wallace.

While Wallace and the Vikings were disappointed he didn’t contribute more in 2015, the team’s company line has been bullish on bringing him back. He’s under contract for the final two years of a bloated free agency deal signed in Miami, where the Dolphins essentially gave him away in a trade and didn’t mince words a year ago. Despite carrying some baggage into Minnesota, Wallace impressed coaches and teammates with his professionalism last season.

“What Mike Wallace brought into our locker room, and his buy-in and his sacrifice from a standpoint of stats and what was best for the team,” Spielman said. “He was a true professional and everything he was asked to do, he did it to his best. And his leadership also was very key to the success that we had on the field.”

The Vikings met with Wallace’s agent, Bus Cook, in Indianapolis this weekend, reportedly with the intention to renegotiate his contract. He’s currently slated as the team’s second-highest paid player at an $11.5-million cap hit after tying his career low with 39 receptions. They also attempted a restructure with Greg Jennings last year before releasing him.

Zimmer and Spielman had similar praise for three over-30 veterans in linebacker Chad Greenway, cornerback Terence Newman and defensive end Brian Robison. Robison is the only of the three currently under contract for next season, and Spielman lauded his play and leadership. While Zimmer expects Greenway to return for an 11th season.

The Vikings say Newman, who turns 38 on Sept. 4, wants to return for a 14th NFL season. Newman started all 17 games and led the team with three interceptions, though he’d be expected to compete for a job again with a first-round pick in Trae Waynes primed to take over.

“We don’t want to have anybody that can play,” Zimmer said. “If they can’t play, they can’t be here, regardless. I’ll make them a coach, if we want to get veteran leadership. But I think the coaches really like Terence and the things that he was able to do. He played good. Does he want to play 65 plays [for] 16 games? Or can he do that? I don’t know. So that’s the other thing we have to look at. And the same thing, you know, if Waynes is better, then we’d play him.”

With additions to staff, the offense remains a work in progress.

Zimmer hopes the veteran coaching additions of Tony Sparano (OL) and Pat Shurmur (TE) will both aid quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s development entering his third NFL season. Exactly what the offense will look like remains a work in progress, though what’s clear is Zimmer wants the group to become less predictable.

“There are times you want to get in the gun on first and second down, but you gotta be able to run the ball out of it,” Zimmer said. “You can’t just throw the ball when you’re in the gun. Then when you get under center, it’s the same thing. You can’t just hand the ball off, you have to have some solid play-action passes and you have to have some movement passes and you have to have some dropbacks. I think we need to package things a little bit more so that everything is together.

Spielman and Zimmer spoke candidly about last season’s struggle to find the right balance between Bridgewater’s strength out of the shotgun, and Peterson’s preference for under center. Peterson has said he wants to become a ‘better fit’ for the offense entering his 10th NFL season, referencing backup Jerick McKinnon, who showed off his versatility with 8.1 yards per touch in the final four games. Blending the pieces into one philosophy will be a focus for the Vikings this spring.

Zimmer expects Shurmur and Sparano, both former head coaches, to have influence under offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

“I think it’s got to be a little bit of a combination,” Zimmer said. “There are things we can do better out of the gun. And I think Adrian can do better out of the gun. And I think there’s things we can do better under center that Teddy can do better. I think it’s that combination. That’s part of the reason I got Tony in here; part of the reason why I got Pat to help, because Pat has had a lot of influence [in the past] with the quarterback in the gun. And Tony has been a lot with the quarterback under center.”

– Eric Kendricks’ exact position is ‘up in the air.’

Eric Kendricks, the Vikings’ second-round pick from last spring, went from nickel linebacker to three-down player and the team’s leading tackler by season’s end. When he was drafted, the Vikings plugged Kendricks into their need at middle linebacker and cautioned a future move to the outside could better suit him.

Kendricks played well enough in the middle to give Zimmer pause before moving him.

“That’s still a tough question,” Zimmer said. “I do think he’d be a good player at [outside linebacker]. I always have a little bit of a concern about moving a guy that played pretty well to another position. Just because it may not turn out the way you want.

“All those things are all so up in the air. But that’s what’s good about having a guy like Kendricks. OK, let’s say we want to draft a linebacker. Well, this Mike [middle] linebacker is on the board and we really like him. All right. Well if we take him, we move Kendricks to Will [weak-side]. What if there’s a Will we really like? Well, let’s leave him there and let’s [draft] the Will.”

An upgrade at safety is sought, with an eye on Harrison Smith doing more.

The Vikings may soon make Harrison Smith an even wealthier man, and they’d like him to do even more for their defense.

Smith led the Vikings’ fifth-ranked scoring unit with eight All-Pro votes and has grown into one of the NFL’s stalwarts at safety. Though Zimmer hinted Smith’s impact has been limited by a second safety spot that has been a revolving door since he was selected 29th overall in 2012. Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton have made the majority of starts since Zimmer was hired two years ago. Both players are pending free agents.

“If Harrison Smith was paired with a guy that had some other qualities, we could allow Harrison to be more of an impactful player,” Zimmer said. “I think Harrison can be more impactful if he had the right kind of guy next to him.”

Vikings continue warming up to analytics.

In the fifth offseason as Vikings general manager, Spielman has been open to various tools that will help craft and develop his roster. While specifics are hard to come by from any NFL front office, Spielman said the Vikings took ‘another step forward’ this offseason on their use of analytics in evaluations.

“Because I’ve seen it started to work,” Spielman said. “If it didn’t work, then I’d be like ‘OK, next.’”

Though Zimmer and Turner have thrown jabs at football analytics sites like Pro Football Focus, the Vikings haven’t turned a blind eye to a wave of technological and data-driven analysis. They became one of four NFL teams to partner with StriVR Labs last summer, using 360-degree virtual reality technology to help coaches and players analyze plays on the field. Spielman said he met with the ‘virtual reality people’ in Indianapolis last week, and added the annual combine is a key event during which they collect data. Their analytics evaluations primarily lean on outside consultants, including an Ivy League professor. Vikings pro scout Scott Kuhn also heads many of those projects.

“[Scouting combine] is a part of it, but I think there are five or six other areas we add into that analytics,” Spielman said. “Guys a lot smarter than me came up with 17 different algorithms on how to spin these guys through, to punch out. Basically, we’re using it to the point now where it doesn’t determine where they land on our draft board. Where it really comes into play is if you have two guys in a specific area of your draft board and maybe that will help break the tie.”

Spielman has credited advanced data analysis for helping the Vikings draft a couple third-round picks in running back Jerick McKinnon and defensive end Danielle Hunter. Both were standouts at their NFL scouting combines. “But it’s always going to come down to…your gut instinct,” Spielman added.

The post Five takeaways from Indy: Vikings leave door open for veterans to return appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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