EAGAN, Minn. – Rick Dennison always appreciated competing against Mike Zimmer-led defenses, and now he's grateful for the opportunity to be part of his staff.
Dennison, whom the Vikings recently hired as their new offensive line coach/run game coordinator, told Twin Cities media members Thursday afternoon that he's looking forward to being part of a "successful organization" in Minnesota.
"Competing against Coach Zimmer over the years, I know what he kind of brings to the table," said Dennison, who has more than 20 years of NFL coaching experience. "I always liked competing against him because they were good, tough, physical football teams, and you always want to be around that."
Dennison also spoke highly of Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski, whom he met for the first time upon arriving in Minnesota.
"He's been great," Dennison said of Stefanski.
Dennison, Stefanski and other members of Minnesota's offensive coaching staff stressed on Thursday the importance of a marriage between the run and pass game. When asked about the key to establishing a solid ground game, something that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has emphasized over the past year, Dennison said it requires a commitment to the run.
"I think persistence is the biggest thing. You're not always going to be successful," Dennison explained. "There might be a couple plays that don't work out for you, but if you keep grinding and keep working at it, [you'll see production].
"It's not always the defense that takes it away – sometimes it's your technique," he added. "Perhaps it's, one guy didn't do one thing right. Just persistence and then, keep grinding at it. I think that's the key."
Dennison said there's "plenty of talent" on Minnesota's roster and is familiar with the Vikings offensive line group after not only watching film but from evaluating the players over the years.
He said he plans to "do what we do best," working to the players' strengths, and feels positive about the position room.
"I have high hopes that this will be a great group to work with – I'm looking forward to it," Dennison said.
When asked specifically what he looks for in offensive linemen, Dennison answered that athleticism is important for being in the trenches.
"Certainly there are plenty of athletes in the room upstairs right now," he said. "Look for athletic people, look for smart people, and tough. And I think they check all those boxes."
Dennison not only has a vote of confidence from Stefanski but also from Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak, who has coached more than 200 NFL games – with various teams – alongside Dennison.
Kubiak spoke highly of Dennison's intelligence and unique approach to the game, reminding media members that Dennison's background is in engineering. Before transitioning to the gridiron, he graduated with a Master's degree in fluid mechanics and was turning his focus toward air-pollution control. But when a shot at the NFL presented itself, Dennison said he couldn't let the opportunity pass him by.
Now, he's happy helping his twin daughters with high school geometry and can't imagine a life away from football.
"He's too smart," Kubiak quipped of Dennison. "We give him a hard time. But Rick was raised under Mike [Shanahan] and Alex Gibbs scheme-wise. So he's a great teacher in how to break things down and how to start from the bottom up and what he's trying to get done.
"And then with Kevin wanting to marry the run and the pass, having a run [game] coordinator … actually, I think it's a huge help," Kubiak continued. "I know for me, as a play-caller for all those years, having Rick design the run game, he'd come to me and help me go marry what we're going to do pass-wise with his run game that week. I think that's a big plus."
View photos of the 2019 Minnesota Vikings coaching staff.
Dennison was asked about working with Zimmer, who has specific goals for the look of the Vikings offense.
"I think it'll be great. I've always done what the head coach wants me to do. I've never been a rebel and that [sort of] thing," Dennison responded with a smile. "I think it'll be fine. Obviously we want to threaten the defense, make them play all plays – not just the run, not just the pass – and make them defend every part of the field. That's what we'll try to do."
When players return to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on April 15 for the offseason workout program, Dennison plans to coach the lead the offensive line room in a way to benefit each individual player.
"I'll approach it a different way each time we get together. So, Phase 1 [of organized team activities] will be different than Phase 2 and Phase 3, and when we go out there in OTAs, it will be a little bit different than training camp," Dennison explained. "Having been in a classroom – I did that for about four years in math – having been in there, everybody learns it just a little bit different.
"So I try to attack it [in multiple ways] so maybe the light will go on for one guy a different way," he added.