All of the attention this week in Mobile, Alabama during Senior Bowl practices is on this group of senior football players, as it should be. This is their time to shine, in front of hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts and GMs, and with no underclassmen present to steal the spotlight.
But given that Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and his staff are heading up the North squad this year, and given the intensity with which the Vikings staff is coaching, I wanted to take a quick moment to acknowledge the effort and hard work Coach Frazier’s group has committed to this week and to this North squad.
Intensity and dedication to the profession are qualities Frazier saw in Brendan Daly back when the two worked on the Vikings defensive staff in 2007-08, and those qualities are exactly the reason Frazier identified Daly as the team’s new defensive line coach this offseason.
“He does [have a fire about him]. A lot of energy. A lot of enthusiasm,” Frazier told the Star Tribune’s Dan Wiederer earlier this week. “That's contagious. That carries over. We need that.”
But Daly isn’t the only member of the Vikings coaching staff with those qualities, and he’s not the only member of the coaching staff exerting those qualities this week at the Senior Bowl.
Prior to Tuesday morning’s practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson were working with the North team’s quarterbacks, coaching them hard on the basics of calling a cadence at the line of scrimmage, footwork in dropping back from under center and the importance of reading through the proper progressions. Musgrave and Johnson were not simply going through the motions, they were drilling the trio of quarterbacks – Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, Boise State’s Kellen Moore and Wisconsin’s Russell Martin – as if they were members of the Vikings getting ready for a big game.
Each morning this week in the moments before practice when players are stretching individually and coaches and scouts begin filling the seats inside the stadium, Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White can be heard bellowing instructions to several players, mostly kick and punt returners. And then during the team part of practice, where the North offense and defense go against one another, Priefer has spent time working with Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman on his drop. Priefer has one of the NFL’s best punters back in Minnesota and is certainly not looking to replace him with a rookie this year, but yet he continually works with Nortman during what is certainly the most important week of the punter’s football career to date.
Another example of a Vikings coach displaying a passion for the game unmatched by most is defensive backs coach Joe Woods, who has been with the club since 2006 and has a solid working relationship with Frazier. Some coaches motivate and instruct subtly, some are more vocal and boisterous. Woods doesn’t blur the line – he’s one of the team’s most vocal coaches, and that makes it easy and fun to watch him at work with his players.
Woods actually was in quite the fish bowl during Wednesday’s practice as he worked with the North squad’s defensive backs during the individual drills portion of the workout. He was working with his players on changing direction, specifically on the art of shifting body weight from one direction to the other in order to quickly respond to instructions from Woods during the drill. As Woods barked out instructions and his players labored through the drill, a rather large crowd of distinguished NFL personalities gathered to watch.
To one side was Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who worked with Woods in 2006 on the Vikings defensive staff and before that in Tampa Bay. Standing next to Tomlin was Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff. On the other side of the drill was Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll, a former Vikings defensive backs coach as well. And standing behind the drill watching from the NFL Network set was Mike Mayock, a former defensive back himself and one of the top NFL draft and college football analysts in the country.
Certainly these individuals were not gathered to watch how an assistant coach conducted the drill, that’s not the point. They were gathered to watch the talented crop of individuals that comprise the North squads defensive backs group. But while Tomlin, Dimitroff, Carroll and Mayock watched those players, they were also subjected to the passionate style with which Woods coaches, not just here in Mobile but also back with the Vikings on a daily basis during the season and during the offseason program.
I’m not the only one noticing the excellent job Frazier and his staff are doing with this year’s North team.
"The Minnesota coaches are real," Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Denard told Wiederer. "Coach Frazier put a lot of fire in our eyes. I like the way he talks. He let us know this was a big step and that we need to go hard every play all day long to stand out."
The North squad players are not the only individuals standing out. Frazier and his staff are standing out as a passionate and talented group of coaches. Coming off a 3-13 season, the Vikings have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and a lot of improvement to make overall.
If their performance during Senior Bowl practices this week is any indication, the Vikings coaching staff is already hard at work.