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Monday Morning Mailbag: Finding An Offensive Identity

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We've discussed this before, but I believe you felt an offensive identity was important. Yet, I didn't hear any clear identity statement from any coach last week during their press conferences. I heard "unpredictable", which I would expect and every team is working toward that goal. I heard "toughness" and "physical", which are characteristics rather than identity. I heard "play action", which is a strength of Kirk Cousins'. And this morning I saw an article about marrying the run and pass. We pretty much have the weapons to do what we want IF we can block toward that chosen end. But I don't see or hear an identity. Where are we there?
-- Jeff

Yes, I think it's important for an offense to have an identity and to work toward that identity. But I don't think it does a team any good to broadcast what they intend to have as an identity. The identity is something that will be apparent once games are being played. With that being said, it may come off as equivocation when a coach or an analyst says the offense wants to be able to run and throw the ball effectively, but it's also the true desire. You can have a run-first smash-mouth identity, but if you're down by two scores with eight minutes to go, that's not going to do you any good. Conversely, you can be an air-it-out team, but if you're trying to nurse a seven-point lead with four minutes to go, you can't play to that identity. So, versatility and adaptability is as important as establishing a true identity.

If the Vikings have a healthy Nick Easton and Pat Elflein coupled with Riley Reiff and Brian O'Neill, it would seem we have decent pieces in place. Would it not make sense for the Vikings to sign a veteran starting guard in free agency along with one or two versatile backups?
-- Chris Kulak
Fowler, CA

That is one way to attack it, certainly. Remember, though, there are many examples of times when a veteran free agent was signed with the intent to make him the starter and then it winds up that he's not a great fit or isn't a better player than someone else (draft pick, pre-existing backup, etc.). Unless it's a unique situation in which a special player becomes a free agent and is signed, I would head into the offseason program with an open mind (as it relates to new acquisitions) as to who will become the starter. You don't want to stunt a draft pick's growth out of loyalty to a free agent because a lot of money was required to sign him. What you want to do is put the five best players out there, regardless of how they were acquired.

Do you think there's value in studying the unpredictability and changeability of Bill Belichick?
-- Tom Kelber
Alta Loma, CA

Sure. It never hurts to study what other successful people or teams are doing and then to try and emulate or blend some of their tactics in with your own. More importantly, though, is to study and thoroughly understand your own team – your schemes and your players. That is what has always stood out to me about some of the great coaches – in all sports. They understand their personnel and they understand how to put them in a position to succeed. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his defensive staff are very good at this, and now it will be Kevin Stefanski who will head up this endeavor on the offensive side of the ball with that coaching staff.

Kirk Cousins' numbers were good this year. Do you think we should draft a young quarterback to watch and learn from him? If so, what round would you pick him in?
-- Vaughan Mckay
Melbourne, Australia

The quarterback position is so integral to success in the NFL and takes so much time and proper management to master that I'm always on board with rostering a developmental prospect. Kyle Sloter fits that mold for the Vikings as of now, so it'll be interesting to see what the new-look offensive staff has in mind for him. Either way, investing a draft pick in a quarterback is almost always a prudent move. As to the question about when that quarterback would be drafted, it's much more difficult to find consensus on that. I wouldn't predetermine which round I'm going to take a quarterback. I would identify which quarterbacks in the class would fit the best with my team and scheme, and then I would assess the draft class and other teams' needs to determine where that quarterback would need to be selected.

Do you think one of the top priorities should be to find a kickoff/punt returner so we have a chance to help score more points?
-- Kenny Burke

With a new special teams coordinator in the fold, I'm sure every spot on that side of the ball will receive a thorough audit and, consequently, is subject to being made a priority when it comes to player acquisition this offseason. But, yes, kickoff and punt returner does bare watching because two of the team's primary returners – Mike Hughes and Marcus Sherels – are both coming back from injuries. You can find return specialists in each class, and so it wouldn't surprise me to see the Vikings take a look at those types of players. But you can also find talented returners who play other positions, such as defensive backs, running backs and receivers.