EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings on Saturday announced the team will have co-offensive line coaches for the 2018 season, with Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko will split duties with the group following the tragic passing of Tony Sparano.
The changes brought a mix of emotions for Riley Reiff, who is entering his second season with the Vikings.
“Happy for Clancy and Janocko, but we’re still kind of mourning Tony,” Reiff said a day after serving as a palbearer. “He would have wanted us to move on and get back to grinding, so that’s what we’re going to do.
“Janocko and Clancy, they know what they’re doing,” Reiff added. “They got us going pretty fast.”
The Vikings left tackle later expanded on his reflections for Sparano, who was his position coach during his first season in Minnesota. The unit was perhaps the most improved position group for the Vikings this past season as Minnesota jumped from 32nd to seventh in rushing and allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the NFL.
“Tony was a guy of high character. He was a great man and loved his family. He was great to his players,” Reiff said. “It’s tough. We’re going to miss him. At the same time, he’d want us to move forward, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“Tony loved us. Tony loved his family,” Reiff later added. “I can’t say enough about the guy. He was a good, genuine guy and he cared about people.”
Reiff, who started 15 regular-season games and both playoff contests in 2017, said he expects Minnesota’s offensive line to become even closer than the tight-knit group already was.
“It’s tough. When [stuff] gets tough, it bonds you together. An offensive line is pretty close anyway, but we’re just going to move forward,” Reiff said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us and we’re going to miss him, but we’ve got to move forward.”
Reiff lined up as the first-team left tackle, and blindside protector to Kirk Cousins, during the first full-team practice on Saturday afternoon.
Although the unit is without center Pat Elflein as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery, Reiff said he expects nothing but the group’s best effort as they endure training camp and get prepared for the 2018 season.
“Any reps we can get together as a group, you just build on stuff,” Reiff said. “The guys that are out there, we’re building stuff right now and are trying to get better every day and every period.
“We just have to come to work every day. Going back to Tony, he grinded us on that,” Reiff later added. “We grind pretty hard [in practice]. It starts in individuals, and it keeps going through team periods. It’s a slow process, but we’ll get there.”
Griffen: Defense focused on proving itself, fundamentals
Minnesota’s defense finished first in the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed and third-down percentage in 2017.
Everson Griffen couldn’t care less.
The Vikings defensive end said Saturday that Minnesota’s ultra-successful defensive season from a year ago means nothing going forward. His focus is instead on getting prepared for 2018 and competing day-in and day-out at training camp.
“We’ve got swag, but you’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to earn the right to have swag. What we did last year does not matter one bit,” Griffen said. “It’s what we do this year and how we prepare ourselves, our mind, our body, one another, how you compete with one another, how I compete against Linval [Joseph] because everything is a competition, how I compete against Riley.
“We’re all in competition to get everybody better. We’ve got one common goal, and that’s to win football games,” Griffen said. “We’ve got to earn the right to have swag, we’ve got to earn the right to be the man.
The former fourth-round pick led Minnesota with 13 sacks a season ago but did not participate in spring drills.
He was out at practice more than 15 minutes early Saturday to get warmed up for his first practice of training camp.
“The small things carry over to the big things,” Griffen said. “If you do all the small things on a daily basis and improve on all the small things, I think that’s where greatness is achieved.
“It’s always working on little small things, getting better at those and then the big things come easier, they become fluid, they become natural,” Griffen added.
Barr ‘excited’ to develop pass rush skills
Anthony Barr has made his name by making plays all over the field during his first four seasons in the league.
The linebacker could find himself racking up stats in the backfield in 2018.
Barr, who has 10.5 career sacks, worked on his pass rush moves during spring drills. He said Saturday that he could see an expanded role rushing the quarterback going forward.
“It definitely could be a change-up for us,” Barr said. “Hopefully I can get a couple more opportunities to do that, and we’ll see how that goes.
“It’s something I’m going to continue to work on, get better at – I’m excited for it,” Barr added.
Barr worked with the Vikings stable of defensive linemen, including Griffen, in the spring.
“I have great examples in front of me watching Everson, Danielle [Hunter], B-Rob (Brian Robison) – those guys have done it at a high level for some years now, and they’re very successful,” Barr said. “So they’re great teammates, great teachers, and I’m excited to learn from them.”
Added Griffen: “I think showing that five-down look, having five pass rushers on the ball allows us to give the offense different looks and have them slide different formations to get the chips off guys and let guys get 1-on-1s and win the 1-on-1 battles. I think that’s the plan.”
Play of the day
An All-Pro got the best of a rookie for Saturday’s top play.
Late in practice in a team drill, wide receiver Adam Thielen hauled in a pass over cornerback Holton Hill down the left sideline that drew cheers from the Purple faithful.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins waited until Thielen shook free down the sideline for lofting him the ball, which Thielen corralled in the air before landing both feet in bounds.
Running back Dalvin Cook jogged down the field to celebrate with the Pro Bowl wide receiver.