We don't need to rehash all of the ways that Minnesota's defense struggled in 2020.
The unit was the worst that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has had in Minnesota, perhaps even in his entire career.
But many expect a return to form for a revamped defense, which added a handful of veteran free agents to pair alongside current staples and a host of young talent.
Jeffri Chadiha is among them, as the NFL.com columnist recently wrote that he expects the defense to lead the way for the Vikings as they challenge for the NFC North title in 2021.
The Vikings aren't trying to distance themselves from those numbers this year. They're using them as ample motivation, evidence of how hard they need to work to return to the level of play they expect.
"We want to get back to us," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer during a recent interview in training camp. "Stopping the run. Getting after the quarterback. We weren't very good in any of those areas. So this year is definitely about getting back to us."
That's Step 1 and Step 2, but perhaps the most interesting area to watch for this season is the creativity the Vikings show on defense.
Zimmer said this offseason that Minnesota's coaching staff looked for ways to tinker with the scheme, and a few wrinkles have been noticeable so far this summer.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Oct. 25, 2021.
Chadiha wrote that the connection between the players and the coaching staff seems to have everyone on the same page with the regular season less than a month away.
What's telling about the Vikings is that the changes aren't solely about finding better players to play in the same schemes. It's about an open-minded approach to altering the entire process. There's been talk about mixing in some 3-4 looks — Mike Zimmer has traditionally relied on a 4-3 scheme — and the players have been grateful for the approaches taken by Adam Zimmer and [Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator] Andre Patterson.
Anthony Barr told Chadiha: "What I like is how open they are to hearing us out as players. It's not just about doing things their way and that's it. That's traditionally how it is in some places. They're more open to hear how we feel and what we're seeing on the field. They're (ultimately) going to call what they want, but they clearly value our input. That empowers us as players, that they want to listen to us. And that's how you build chemistry, by trusting people."
Barr added that he's seen even a noteworthy change in his head coach. Mike Zimmer is reputed for his stern, curmudgeonly personality, a mindset that has certainly set the tone for the blue-collar culture he's created in Minnesota. What Barr sees now is a coach who's laughing more and showing his lighter side in ways that have been beneficial. When asked when Barr noticed the change, he joked, "It was about the time that Danielle [Hunter] came back."
"I'd say he's been very positive this year," Barr said of his head coach. "I won't say it's uncharacteristic of him, but he's learning that that mood is helpful. Players can feel the energy and generate that same vibe he puts out. It's been good to see him smile and be positive. That's obviously going to change the minute we give up a touchdown or lose a game, but that positivity is a big thing for us."
Chadiha's full column on the 2021 Vikings defense can be found here.
View photos of Vikings legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Alan Page.
Page ranked No. 32 on The Athletic's all-time top 100 NFL list
Alan Page has come in at No. 32 on The Athletic's list of their top 100 NFL players of all time.
Page was profiled by Stephen Holder of The Athletic, who wrote that the Hall of Fame defensive tackle was ahead of his time by the way he dominated the league back in the 1970s.
Holder called Page "an unblockable, gap-destroying, game-wrecking force who did nothing less than redefine his position."
In 1971, he became the first defensive player to win the Associated Press Most Valuable Player award. Just one other defensive player, Lawrence Taylor in 1986, has done it. He anchored one of the greatest defensive lines ever, the Vikings "Purple People Eaters," along with fellow Hall of Famer Carl Eller and multi-time Pro Bowlers Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen.
There is little doubt that Page himself is well aware of these many facts. But try getting him to address his greatness out loud. He has always preferred to leave that task to others — and they often oblige.
Take it from Packers Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman Jerry Kramer, who after his retirement in 1968 briefly considered a return to the game. Very briefly.
"Any time I consider coming out of retirement and then I think of Alan Page," Kramer once said, "it makes retirement a little bit easier."
Page, who is also in the Vikings Ring of Honor, earned his law degree while playing football and achieved more impressive accomplishments after leaving the gridiron.
Page served 22 years on the Minnesota Supreme Court, and has spearheaded his Page Education Foundation, which has awarded nearly $16 million to 7,700-plus students in the past 30-plus years.
You could know nothing of Page's football success and still come away in awe of his life's work. He tends to have that effect on people. People like, say, President Bill Clinton, who knew Page only for his on-field talents before meeting him years later and becoming a close friend.
Clinton wrote the foreword of Page's biography, "All Rise: The Remarkable Journey of Alan Page."
Clinton wrote that he was struck by the contrast between the man he watched terrorize quarterbacks in the NFL and the man he came to know.
"He wasn't a 'Purple People Eater' at all!" Clinton wrote. "Alan Page is more than a gentleman."
Holder's lengthy and full profile on Page can be found here.
Page is the highest-ranking Viking on The Athletic's list. Randy Moss landed at No. 38, joining Adrian Peterson (No. 72) and Fran Tarkenton (No. 95).