The Vikings running back committee this season has a much different look than last.
In addition to the door coming to a close on the Adrian Peterson era, the signing of Latavius Murray in free agency and drafting Dalvin Cook 41st overall, the Vikings also added a new name to its coaching staff.
Kennedy Polamalu was hired as Minnesota's running backs coach after Kevin Stefanski was moved from that position to quarterbacks coach. ESPN's Ben Goessling spoke with Polamalu last week about his namesake, background and goals for the Vikings run game in 2017. Goessling wrote:
The way the Vikings use their running backs will inevitably change, as Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur implements a scheme that has typically employed backs as receivers. But [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer believes in a strong ground game as at least an effective counterpunch, and the Vikings spent too much time addressing their 32nd-ranked run game not to lean on it this fall.
Polamalu was born the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated and named in honor of the 35th President. He had no prior connections to the Vikings but has impressed Zimmer.
"I've been really impressed with Kennedy in the short time [he's been here]," Zimmer told Twin Cities media during his Friday podium session. "I got the chance to go on a couple visits with him and hear him talk to the players, talk to the coaches, his demeanor, the way he does it. He had, being in college, he recruited most of these guys anyway, but he's very smart, hard worker. He has got a really good personality. He has got a tough mentality, which is good."
With his running backs, Polamalu said he preaches an attention to detail and an awareness of how one step can create leverage on the field – "In this league, it's that tight, and it happens that fast," he said. He also wants his players to be conscientious to better ensure a long career through good decisions on and off the field. Few of his players have done that better than [Fred] Taylor, who ran for 11,695 yards in a 13-year career.
The coach mentions names like Robert Smith and Chuck Foreman when speaking of Vikings history, dating back to the teams Polamalu watched when he arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s. Peterson's moniker is at the top of the ranks of great Vikings backs, and Polamalu – whose own name is imbued with history – wants to put Cook on that list.
Bucky Hodges part of historic TE draft class
In addition to telling Twin Cities media members at the start of rookie minicamp why he's chosen to don jersey No. 84, Bucky Hodges also said the Vikings are getting a better player than the sixth-round selection may imply.
He may very well be right.
Hodges (picked 201st overall) was the 13th tight end taken off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft. Three were taken in the first round, and two were taken in the second. In the past 10 drafts, only six tight ends total were selected in the first round.
John Holler of *Viking Update *recently pointed out just how rare it was to see this kind of draft depth at the tight end position. He wrote:
The last time more than one tight end was taken in the first round was when two were taken in 2006 – Vernon Davis and Marcedes Lewis. The last time three tight ends were taken in the first round was in 2002, when Jeremy Shockey, Dan Graham and Jerramy Stevens were selected. The last time five tight ends were taken in the first two round was in 1995 – Kyle Brady and Mark Bruener in the first round and Christian Fauria, Ken Dilger and Kendall Watkins in the second round.
Holler opined that in another draft with fewer talented tight ends available, Hodges could have likely been a second- or third-round pick. Beyond the depth factor, Holler explained the uniqueness he sees in this particular class's skill set.
What makes the 2017 tight end class so impressive is that most of them aren't being drafted for their dominant blocking prowess. Most of them are players that provide much more benefit well beyond the line of scrimmage rather than on it.
Sometimes it's nice to notice the wave before it starts. In the passing world of the NFL, tight ends who can play like giant wide receivers are a growing hybrid position, and the Class of 2017 may be the test case – and a sixth-rounder like Hodges could be the guy who tips the scale in the favor of this rare draft class.