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The coaches have said that they plan to put Anthony Barr up at the line as a pass rusher in sub packages. What does that mean for our other pass rushers? Will one of our defensive ends come out of the game or will they be asked to shift inside? -- Shawn E. Macomb, IL
There are many options for the coaches in this scenario. We know both Everson Griffen and Brian Robison can slide inside and rush the passer from defensive tackle in sub packages because they've already done it with success for the Vikings. But if the coaches want to leave Sharrif Floyd on the field as a pass rushing defensive tackle, then the coaches can give one of the starting ends a breather and sub Barr in there. Or they can ask Griffen or Robison to stand up like a linebacker with Chad Greenway. I don't think there will be just one alignment the coaches use with Barr lined up as a defensive end. This is what Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer does best – use different formations and alignments to put players in a position to succeed and to keep the offense off-balance.
What are you sensing are the most improved aspects of the team from this time last year? I haven't heard anything about the special teams so far this year. Last year they were the gem of the team in many ways and provided needed points. How do they look? Thank you for your hard work. -- Larry B.
The secondary. This should be music to the ears of Vikings fans. By no means am I saying it's mission accomplished for the Vikings secondary, but there's no question in my mind after watching Organized Team Activities and minicamp that this year's group will be much improved from last year and may well be the most improved aspect of the team in 2014. It's far too early to call that race, but right now that's the area I'd point to in terms of most improved from last season. This year's group is playing faster, is making more plays on the football when it's in the air, and is generally more aggressive and confident.
Do you think the Vikings with their revamped defense will be known as more of a pass defense or a run-stopping defense? -- Blake W.
How the Vikings defense is characterized by fans and media is out of the team's control. But my sense is, if Coach Zimmer's vision for the defense is realized, the Vikings defensive success will be predicated on being able to stop the run first and foremost. By being sound against the run on early downs, a defense puts the offense in unfavorable down-and-distance positions on 3rd downs, thus making it more difficult to succeed throwing the ball. If it plays out this way, the defense may collect a bunch of sacks and interceptions because the offense is throwing on 3rd and long all the time, and this may cause some to use the "great pass defense" tag. But the reality is that the success against the pass on 3rd down was set up by the defense's ability to stop the run on 1st and 2nd down.
I watched the segment you did on Jerome Simpson, with various plays from last year (Detroit, Green Bay, Chicago) that demonstrated his ability and future potential. I believe this is going to be a huge year for Jerome. He is no doubt loaded with talent and great potential, that coupled with Norv Turner's aggressive, downfield philosophy will certainly give Jerome plenty of opportunities to shine like a diamond. You obviously do not have a crystal ball, but would you agree that this is likely? I am very excited about the upcoming season. -- Simmons S. Central Virginia
Yes, I agree that Simpson is the kind of receiver who will be given a chance to shine in Turner's offense. Item No. 1 in the "5 Things in a Norv Turner Offense" column I wrote this past February was "High Yards Per Passing Attempt." Turner offenses in San Diego were never below 6.42 yards per attempt and in fact ranked No. 1 in the category three times during his tenure (8.39 in 2008, 8.68 in 2009, 8.72 in 2010). We all know Simpson's specialty is getting behind the defense for long receptions, so I believe Simpson is just the kind of receiver Turner loves to have in his arsenal. Last season, Simpson had a career-best 15.1 yards per catch average for the Vikings, and I expect his 2014 number to be just as high or even higher.
Do you think that our quarterbacks will choose more deep passes over short passes this year? -- Mitchell W. Foley, MN
Whoever is playing quarterback for the Vikings will be playing quarterback because he has displayed the discipline to throw passes where coverage dictated he should throw it. The adage that it's best to take what the defense will give you is tired, but it's also true. Yes, Turner is known for aggressive, downfield throwing, as discussed in the question above. But Turner doesn't demand his quarterbacks throw downfield regardless of coverage. I remember when the Vikings opened the 2011 season in San Diego, when Turner was the head coach there. The Chargers had Antonio Gates at tight end and Vincent Jackson at receiver, but it wasn't those two home run hitters who gouged the Vikings defense that day. It was running back Mike Tolbert who made life difficult, with nine receptions, two receiving touchdowns and another touchdown on the ground. In fact, Gates and Jackson combined for 105 receiving yards on the day while a trio of running backs – Jacob Hester, Ryan Mathews and Tolbert – combined for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 15 receptions . The moral of the story is that Turner will demand that whoever is playing quarterback for the Vikings throw the ball to the open receiver, regardless of whether it's a deep route or short route.