After Mike Zimmer was hired as the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach on January 15th, it didn’t take long for General Manager Rick Spielman and company to reel in another big name coordinator from the AFC North. The fish Spielman reeled in was former Cleveland Brown’s offensive coordinator, Norv Turner. There could have been many reasons for this hire, especially considering Turner’s historic track record, but one of the biggest had to be a frustration with the offensive coordinators prior. To start, going back as far as when Brad Childress was the head coach, the Vikings’ offense has been somewhat predictable. It seems the normal plan of attack for the offense would be to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson for first and second down, and then pass on third down (assuming it wasn’t 3rd and short.) However, Turner’s offense will be much different from the offenses that Vikings’ fan have seen over the past 7 or 8 seasons.
From a conceptual standpoint, the Vikings have been accustomed to running a West Coast offense; an offense that is built around establishing the run, and using short passes to open up lanes down the field for deep passes. This is why the Vikings have consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards per completion over the past few seasons, because they’ve struggled stretching the field (along with having inconsistency at the quarterback position.) Turner, however, takes a different approach. Turner likes to establish a strong running game, but he also likes to stretch the middle of field, especially with slot receivers and tight ends. I expect there to be greater variety in the Vikings’ offensive play calling this year, and it will work wonders for everyone on the field, especially Adrian Peterson.
This isn’t meant to be a knock at Bill Musgrave, although there are plenty of things he could have done better last year as the offensive coordinator, but meant to be a praise of Turner. Turner’s offense will lead to an increase in touches for guys like Kyle Rudolph (who recently signed a 5 year, $36.5 million deal) and Greg Jennings, who should be manning the slot this season. The tight end position in Turner’s offense is very active in pass catching, last seen with Jordan Cameron in Cleveland last season. Antonio Gates has also seen success in Turner’s offense. The tight end is important in this offense because Turner likes to stress stretching the middle of the field with big bodied tight ends who can take hits from hard hitting safeties. Rudolph should enjoy the same type of success as both Cameron and Gates, although he isn’t as athletic as the other two. However, Rudolph has worked on slimming down this off season, and should result in more speed and a little more wiggle in his step. Before, Rudolph was the most dangerous in the red zone and goal line because of his 6-foot-5 height, but now he will be getting more targets all throughout the field.
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Turner has had extreme success with tall, lengthy wide receivers as well– last year it was Josh Gordon, with San Diego it was Vincent Jackson. This is because Turner likes to throw the ball down field, and let his wide receivers make plays on the ball. Vikings’ faithful can especially expect wide receivers to consistently be running deep down the field. One player who should really benefit from this is Cordarrelle Patterson, the speedy 6-foot-3 2nd year wide receiver. Turner is going to have a ball with this young talented receiver, and will especially love to see him burning corners 20 and 30 yards down the field. Not only does Patterson have the speed, but he also has the size to get up and snatch a football over the top of a defender.
One of the most profound changes in Turner’s offense could also be the way Adrian Peterson is used. Turner will likely trade some of Peterson’s carries for receptions, as Turner’s running backs are very active in the passing game (LaDainian Tomlinson caught plenty of passes in his time playing for Turner) with both pass catching and pass protection. I wouldn’t be surprised if Peterson ends up with over 60 receptions in the 2014 NFL season. Although he’s been limited in the passing game in his career, Peterson has still managed to make specatular plays after catching the ball, like he did here when he ruined William Gay‘s Sunday.
Although most of the players are still trying to adjust to Turner’s offense, from Adrian Peterson to Matt Cassel, Turner will have a profound impact on the Vikings’ offense. Although running the ball will still be the focal point of the offense, it should be much more balanced, and Turner will make a positive impression on the passing game. Turner is a genius at finding out what players’ strengths and weaknesses are, and adjusting play calling accordingly. This may take a few weeks, but once Turner has found the ins and outs of his offensive players, the Vikings’ offense should run on all cylinders. With Turner calling plays for a young, talented offense, expect to see the Vikings’ offense in the top 10 of yards and points scored this coming season.