Perhaps the biggest change Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer wants to see from a season ago is an enhanced running game for Minnesota's offense.
And he's tasked Rick Dennison to lead the charge of improving a rushing attack that ranked 27th in rushing attempts (357) and 30th in yards per game (93.3).
But Dennison, who is the Vikings offensive line coach and run game coordinator, once thought he wasn't going to be working in the NFL. Chad Graff of The Athletic recently profiled Dennison, who has earned bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering.
But his background in science is more than a fun anecdote forgotten once he began coaching. In a league of men with a singular focus, consumed solely and entirely by football, Dennison stands out. To understand the man charged with fixing the Vikings biggest problem, it's helpful to know his interests that reach far beyond the football field, the ones that drove him to take a job at Converse after playing in the NFL, to dream of building a submarine, and to get enjoyment out of helping his ninth-grade daughters with geometry homework.
All of that has earned him a hard time in meeting rooms from colleagues who can occasionally be taken aback by his vocabulary and wide range of factoids.
"He's too smart," Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak said of Dennison, his former teammate and assistant going back three decades.
"You can tell he's like a professor out there," Zimmer said of his first few weeks watching Dennison coach the offensive line.
Dennison has three Super Bowl rings from his time in Denver with Kubiak. He was also a linebacker for the Broncos from 1982-1990.
Graff's full profile on Dennison can be found here.
Benoit interested in seeing how Vikings defense fares in 2019
The 2019 offseason is slowly coming to an end, as the Vikings will report to training camp in late July at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Minnesota has navigated coaching changes, free agency, the draft and spring practices to get to this point, as players will soon spend more than a month away from the facility.
Andy Benoit of the MMQB recently took a look at each NFC North team and put together a snapshot of its offseason so far.
As the Vikings enter the 2019 season, Benoit said he's interested in seeing if Minnesota's vaunted defense can sustain yet another season of success. The MMQB writer said the unit could hinge on the play of cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Is this still a top-shelf defense? Stealing would-be free agent linebacker Anthony Barr back from the Jets was a big win, but it won't matter as much if star corner Xavier Rhodes struggles like he did in 2018 and safety Andrew Sendejo's exit proves damaging. The hope is Rhodes will stay healthy and Sendejo's in-house replacement, undrafted fifth-year pro Anthony Harris, will continue to play aggressively.
Zimmer has built one of the league's best defenses, as Minnesota has finished in the top 10 in points allowed per game in each of the past four seasons. The Vikings ranked first in points and yards allowed per game in 2017.
View images from the Vikings second minicamp practice on June 12 at TCO Performance Center.
Benoit opined that the Vikings biggest area of improvement came on the offensive line.
Minnesota took center Garrett Bradbury in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, shifting former center Pat Elflein over to left guard. Riley Reiff has lined up at left tackle during spring practices, while free-agent acquisition Josh Kline has manned the right guard spot and second-year lineman Brian O'Neill has been at right tackle.
Benoit wrote that a better offensive line play should help the Vikings have a more productive running game in 2019.
New [Offensive Coordinator] Kevin Stefanski will run the ball, because it's crucial for the Gary Kubiak-style outside zone running game the team has installed to better accommodate Kirk Cousins. Garrett Bradbury was considered by many to be the best pure outside-zone-blocking interior lineman in the draft. His arrival moves Elflein to guard, where he should be better. At the other guard spot, ex-Titan Josh Kline is very average, but that's better than what this team had last season.
Benoit wrote he believes the Vikings could still add wide receiver depth behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
As for the rest of the NFC North, Benoit wondered if Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can take the next step, how Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will work with new head coach Matt LaFleur and if the Lions can have improved offensive line play in 2019.