MANKATO, Minn. –The Vikings are garnering attention and drawing praise, and it's not just on a local level.
NFL Network set up shop Wednesday and Thursday at Blakeslee Stadium as part of the coverage attack for all 32 teams' respective training camps.
Following their live morning programming and before the first full afternoon session kicked off, Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall caught up with Andrew Siciliano and Steve Mariucci to get their thoughts on Minnesota's outlook for 2017.
Both experts spoke highly of various aspects of the Vikings game.
Mariucci, nicknamed "Mooch," formerly was the head coach for the 49ers (1997-2002) and the Detroit Lions (2003-05) and has first-hand experience coaching against a Mike Zimmer defense.
Zimmer spent 14 years as a defensive coordinator before accepting the role of Vikings head coach in 2014.
"When you play against a Mike Zimmer defense, you know it's not always exotic," Mariucci said. "It's not crazy stuff, it's not 8,000 blitzes, but it can be. It's versatile enough that if he chooses to do that, he can bring it with a lot of variation."
He emphasized that Zimmer's defenses have always been well-coached and disciplined.
"So it's not like you get the busted coverage. You get the wide-open post because the free safety left the middle," Mariucci said, adding that Zimmer and Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman have drafted well defensively. "They are in the right place; you have to really, really play well to beat this defense. That's the identity of a Zimmer defense. Very fundamentally sound, they play hard, they know what to do, and they'll hit you."
Mariucci also addressed the offense, saying the Vikings quarterback situation is "really something." Teddy Bridgewater, who on Thursday addressed the media for the first time since he suffered a season-ending knee injury 11 months ago, good-naturedly "crashed" the NFL Network set during a live segment earlier in the morning.
The former NFL coach was glad to see Bridgewater in such high spirits.
"[He had] a big smile on his face," Mariucci said. "It's great that he's announced that he is staying at it, that he has a chance, whatever the chance might be, to play a little more football. It would be a miraculous recovery."
He went on to say that Minnesota is fortunate to have snagged Sam Bradford, who joined Minnesota just before the 2016 regular-season started and yet finished the year with an NFL-record 71.6 completion percentage.
"Some quarterbacks don't even hit that with routes versus air," Mariucci quipped. "That's pretty good."
Both Siciliano and Mariucci agreed that Minnesota's biggest concerns rest in the offense, but they also feel positive about changes the Vikings have made there.
Siciliano highlighted the run game, which ranked last in the NFL in 2016. With the addition of Latavius Murray through free agency and drafting rookie Dalvin Cook, and by signing two new free agent tackles this spring, Siciliano said things are moving in the right direction.
"With three key pieces there – re-working that line, keeping Sam upright, giving Sam time to throw the ball downfield … I think they have the weapons," Siciliano said. "With Michael Floyd – he is back on the field in October – and if Dalvin Cook and if Latavius Murray can [help the run game] that they so badly lacked last year, I think the places are in place."
Siciliano added that Pat Shurmur working through the entire offseason as offensive coordinator and his familiarity with Bradford will also be significant.
Mariucci said the Vikings are far from being counted out of the NFC North division and postseason.
"All of a sudden, you go from last in the league in rushing to having a nice one-two punch," Mariucci said. "[Along] with a great defense and a veteran quarterback."
He added: "You're going to be right in the thick of this if you stay healthy."