EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Vikings players have been excited to get back to football with organized team activities, and Vikings coaches are equally eager to be on the field.
While Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer announced Monday that he will take a brief respite away from the team to focus on recovering from an eighth eye surgery, he expressed full confidence in his coaching staff to hold down the fort in his absence.
One of those coaches is Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards, who sat down for a 1-on-1 interview with Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall last week. Edwards told Wobschall that although Minnesota's defensive unit has been a strong one over the past few years, Zimmer and his staff always find room for improvement.
Edwards explained that Zimmer and the coaching staff take time following each season to assess what areas need to be focused on during the offseason. Defensively speaking, Edwards is particularly looking forward to addressing specific in-game situations. From red zone scenarios to third-down practice and two-minute drills, Edwards said there are things the Vikings can clean up on the defensive side of the ball.
And just like Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur has his eye on improving the run game, Edwards said the basis of where the Vikings "want to start defensively" is on stopping an opponent's run game.
"If you can force a team to become one-dimensional, it makes it a lot easier for us to be able to get more into our blitz packages and coverage things that we can do to help," Edwards said. "If we can make them one-dimensional, we should have a chance to be more successful."
Edwards will be leading a defense that's without the presence of Chad Greenway for the first time in a decade.
Edwards said Greenway is a tough guy to replace, both on and off the field. He feels positive, however, about the crew of younger linebackers he'll observe at OTAs who could vie for the third spot alongside Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks in Minnesota's base 4-3 defense. In addition to drafting Ben Gedeon and Elijah Lee out of Michigan and Kansas State, respectively, the Vikings also still have Edmond Robinson, Emmanuel Lamur and Kentrell Brothers at the position.
"It is a process of making the best decision for what we think moving forward," Edwards said. "Those guys have been working hard, and we're just going through this process with them, and we'll find the right combination for when it comes time for kickoff this fall."
The Vikings will also be returning a number of notable names who will continue to anchor the Vikings defense.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith, entering their fifth and sixth seasons in Purple, respectively, have become mainstays in Minnesota's secondary.
"Since they've been here, [they've] really been good players and really pay attention to the detail, carry out what we're trying to do schematically, understand the different things we do from week to week, how to adjust," Edwards said. "A lot of credit to them and the professionalism that they show as far as how they prepare, how they practice and give us the ability to go out and match up on Sunday and have a chance to be successful."
In regards to the defensive line, Wobschall asked Edwards specifically to weigh in on Everson Griffen. The defensive end finished 2016 with 8.0 sacks, second on the team behind Danielle Hunter (12.5), in addition to 61 total tackles and 68 quarterback hurries by coaches' tally.
Edwards said that what he most appreciates about Griffen is consistency in work ethic and mentality.
"The guy's going to come in, he's going to work as hard as anybody in the building, you know what you're getting every time he steps out on the field, which is going to be his best," Edwards said. "You're going to feel his presence each and every day."
Brian Robison often played on the end opposite Griffen, but Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson sometimes instead asked Robison to slide inside to defensive tackle and inserted Hunter as the other end.
The 2017 season will mark Robison's 11th in Minnesota, and Edwards said his willingness to modify his play style and do whatever he's asked by the coaches over the years has helped him remain such an integral piece on defense.
"There's another guy who really has bought in systematically to what we're asking him to do," Edwards said. "I mean, this guy drops into coverage, you see him rushing inside, rushing outside, standing up, moving around.
"So he wears a lot of hats and does a great job of paying attention to the details," Edwards added. "Very rarely are you going to see him make any mental errors, so his preparation is good – another true professional who's a joy to come to work with every day. He's another one that's going to give you everything he's got."