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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Takeaways from locker cleanout day: Zimmer’s future, offensive identity and Thielen-Cousins relationship

By Matthew Coller

EAGAN, Minn. — When the Minnesota Vikings opened the season back in September, they never expected to be spending New Year’s Eve cleaning out their lockers. But following the conclusion of an 8-7-1 season, several players talked about the importance of this offseason and how the team can bounce back next year. Here are the top takeaways from the final open locker room of the year…

Players back Zimmer

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on Monday the Vikings will not be making any chances at head coach or general manager. Around the league, eight coaches were fired, but the Vikings are choosing to be patient following a disappointing 2018 season in which many predicted them to be the NFC North champions.

Zimmer is currently in the final year of his contract — though it may be extended this offseason.

“I think he’s a phenomenal leader, he’s a guy who cares a ton about us as players and about winning,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “He’s the guy, we respect him, we love him as our guy and we want to fight for him. I don’t think there’s anybody in this locker room or upstairs who’s questioning his ability to help us win games. We have to do things to take care of him and we didn’t do that well enough this year.”

While the Vikings have missed the postseason in three of Zimmer’s five years, they have also gone 47-32-1 during his tenure with an NFC Championship appearance and a top 10 defense in points allowed for four straight seasons.

“He knows exactly what he wants and he knows how to get it done and I believe he’s definitely going to make the right decisions going forward,” running back Latavius Murray said.

Receivers still getting on the same page with Cousins

Anyone who watched the TV broadcast of the Vikings’ 24-10 loss to the Chicago Bears saw a sideline blowup between Thielen and Kirk Cousins. Both downplayed the incident on Sunday. On Monday, the Vikings’ quarterback was not in attendance for locker cleanout day as other QBs have been in the past. Thielen reiterated that there is no animosity between the two.

“We’ve never had an issue, that’s for sure,” Thielen said. “The funny part about it is that it looks a lot worse on TV than it actually is. There was frustration obviously but neither of us were mad at each other. We were just talking — maybe a little aggressively — about what we could do better to help the team win and move the ball.”

The Vikings’ Pro Bowl receiver was overheard during Minnesota’s loss to Seattle saying, “it’s been there all [bleeping] day,” leaving viewers to wonder what might have been boiling under the surface before Week 17. But Thielen said that both he and Cousins were upset because they wanted to solve the team’s offensive issues against the Bears.

“People don’t understand how frustrating this game can get, how competitive, we put everything we got into this game,” Thielen said. “We bust our tail in the offseason, we bust our tail all through the season and your emotions come out. They are going to come out. You have to control them, obviously, but we want to win and we want to do whatever it takes to win. I think that’s a good thing when that stuff comes out. It means you care.”

Both Thielen and Stefon Diggs said that they will benefit from another offseason working with Cousins.

“I don’t think people understand how much goes into getting on the same page with a quarterback as far as — running backs, even O-line, receivers — what they like, what receivers like, in the system how they like things done,” Thielen said. “It only helps to have more time with him to figure out what we can do better that makes his job easier…things that are maybe our strengths and things we can do to help this offense be better.”

Diggs said:

“It took time. People forget he’s only been here for seven, eight months. He’s still a new quarterback. It grew. We learn as we go. You could see had splashes of good things happen. As far as being consistent, that’s the next step. All being on the same page at all times.”

“Since I’ve been here I’ve had a different quarterback every year and I kind of got used to it as far as building a relationship with a new guy and working your way up again. Now you have the same guy, have some time out there on the field with each other.”

Offensive identity

The Vikings are officially in search of an offensive coordinator.

After Week 15’s loss to Seattle, they fired John DeFilippo and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski, who won two of his three games as the team’s play caller.

As far as what type of benefit it might be to retain Stefanski and have consistency, Diggs said: “It’s kind of hard to say because I’ve had a different OC [every year] I’ve been here too. I have trust in him. I believe in him. I bought into him. He’s our guy. Until otherwise…he’s who I’m rocking with.”

“Any time that you have more time in the same system, more time to master what you are good at and figure out your identity, it’s probably better,” Thielen said. “But at the same time, that’s not our job. Our job as players is to make sure we’re doing whatever is called. We have to do the best of our ability to get open, to win, and the coaching staff does their thing.”

Overall the Vikings finished with poor offensive numbers. In the passing game they ranked dead last in yards per completion and finished 30th in rushing yards.

“I felt, at times, offensively if we had it figured out then we wouldn’t be in here today talking about what could have been,” Murray said. “I think at times we played well and showed how good we can be, but then mostly didn’t play good enough.”

Murray said he would like to remain in Minnesota, noting that he has enjoyed playing for the organization and with his teammates.

Last season, the veteran running back gained 842 yards on 216 carries. Despite averaging more yards per carry this season, his production dipped to 578 yards on 140 runs.

“The fact that we had more of an identity [in 2017] is why you saw me and [Jerick McKinnon] rotating and running the way we did, we knew exactly what we were doing well and what we wanted to do, this year that wasn’t the case,” Murray said.

Zimmer repeatedly pointed to the lack of running game as an issue during DeFilippo’s tenure and praised Stefanski following two straight weeks of rushing success against the Dolphins and Lions, but the Vikings came up with only 63 yards on the ground on 15 carries against the Bears.

“When you have to play against these teams and you need to establish the run and you’re not able to pass the ball as much as we were doing, that’s when the flaws show up,” Murray said. “Being consistent, we were struggling with. I definitely think we showed it at times, but just being consistent.”

Treadwell’s future

Being benched in Week 16 might be a sign of what is to come this offseason for former first-round pick wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who has 56 catches in three seasons and one touchdown. He finished with his highest career catch total of 35 receptions, but gained only 8.6 yards per catch and had several game-changing drops.

“I wouldn’t say it was up and down,” Treadwell said. “I had a couple drops, but overall I had a great year and this team had a great year. I played my role and did what I needed to do to help the team win.”

According to the website Overthecap, he could be released with $2.5 million in dead cap money but overall $600,000 in cap savings. The Vikings struggled to find a No. 3 option in 2018. Treadwell and Aldrick Robinson combined for just 52 catches.

The post Takeaways from locker cleanout day: Zimmer’s future, offensive identity and Thielen-Cousins relationship appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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