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Notebook: Play-actions, Personnel Groupings & A Linebacker's Affirmation

EAGAN, Minn. — It's a good start to Verizon Vikings Training Camp, and Head Coach Mike Zimmer plans to keep it that way on the other side of Tuesday's off day for players.

The whole team completed its second day of padded practices and fourth consecutive by zipping around in a way that was reflected in Zimmer's words and tone during a session with beat writers after practice.

"Today was a good day. We were physical on both sides of the ball, had some good runs in there," Zimmer said. "We were working on the play-actions quite a bit today, so that was good. We had a couple of new things defensively. We're working hard. They're in a good place right now, so we've got to keep that going."

There were play-action passes, running drills and a bevy of personnel packages.

A possible increase in play action has been one of the more frequent talking points of the offseason because of Kirk Cousins' previous success of using the fake handoffs, rolling out and firing to receivers, as well as the potential influence of Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak.

Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski was asked if successes by an offense will lead to defensive improvements against play action. He had a little fun with the hypothetical before emphasizing the Vikings offense will be multiple.

"It gets kind of deep with, 'I know you know, and you know that I know.' We focus more on just running our offense, to be quite honest," Stefanski said. "We have elements of our offense that are multiple, to say that we're a play-action offense, I think is unfair. We're trying to be multiple across many schematic fronts, if you will."

The Vikings worked with two tight ends on some plays and three receivers on others. They also dotted an I-formation with a running back behind a fullback.

Zimmer said using two tight ends, particularly when one can play the F position, line up at different spots and move around pre-snap, enables a "multitude" of possibilities that make it harder for a defensive play caller to "figure out what the formation is going to be prior to the snap."

What does it do to a defender?

"I guess it depends on how good they are at it," All-Pro safety Harrison Smith said. "If they're not good at it, it's not going to cause any problems, but teams that do it well, yeah.

"[Defenses need] constant communication, thought, preparation from the coaches and everyone being alert on the sidelines and understanding what to look for when you get out on the field," Smith added. "But it can create some problems if teams do it well."

An anecdote about eye discipline

Play-action passes can catch linebackers and defensive backs that are supposed to be covering an opponent's pass route taking a peek in the backfield. It may be quick, but it also can be enough to allow the offensive player to separate from a defender — not to mention the potential impact of misdirection that helped this deep pass to Jordan Taylor:

Zimmer was asked after practice about eye discipline and revisited a time when he was coaching Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders against a future Hall of Fame quarterback.

"Deion got beat one time we were playing Peyton Manning," Zimmer said. "He got beat on a play-action pass [because he was] looking in the backfield. I said, 'What are you doing looking in the backfield? You don't hit anybody anyway.' "

Coaching circles

The list of coaches on the sideline at training camp has gone beyond the Vikings current staff. Timberwolves Head Coach/Vikings "die-hard" fan Ryan Saunders made it to Monday's practice.

The list also includes former NFL head coaches Hue Jackson, Jim Haslett and Joe Philbin.

Zimmer was asked about the trio of veterans.

"Yeah, they called and asked if they could come out," Zimmer said. "It's good, because I can sit in there and talk to them about different things."

Barr's affirmation & focus

One of the biggest moves the Vikings made in free agency was retaining Anthony Barr, who turned down more reportedly more money elsewhere to remain a Viking.

"I knew in my heart it was the right choice," Barr said Monday. "It just reaffirmed it then, and coming back here now, same thing. I'm happy to be here."

Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf was asked by media members about Barr's decision and Minnesota's ability to retain multiple players with contract extensions.

"Well, I can't speak to other teams, but I know we've tried really hard with our resources to develop a culture," Wilf said. "We have great football leadership – it starts with Mike Zimmer, [General Manager] Rick Spielman – and we try to develop a culture. It's a great locker room.

"We try to build through the draft and try to build in-house to get our system, to get our way of thinking, and I think Coach Zimmer's really done that," Wilf continued. "We have a great locker room, and people want to be a part of it. And guys have a taste of what it was like a couple years ago to get close, and they know what it's going to take, and that's what they're working on."

Barr is among the players hungry to have a season more like 2017 when Minnesota went 13-3 and won its second NFC North title under Zimmer, as opposed to 2018 when the Vikings finished 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs by half a game.

"In the crucial moments of the game, we need to be better," Barr said. "We need to hone-in on those moments, understand situational football, time of possession, fourth downs, red zone. If we do that, we'll give our offense a better chance to be successful.

"It's just going out and doing it," he added. "Now that we're educated on it, we're reflecting on what we did wrong, where we can improve. Now, it's about executing when the time comes."

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