MANKATO, Minn. — The Vikings defense ranked third in yards allowed per game (314.9) and sixth in points allowed per game (19.2) in 2016.
The core of the group is entering its fourth season in the system under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Defensive Coordinator George Edwards, and has evolved into one of the league's top units.
Edwards spoke to the media Friday and credited cohesiveness for the group's success over the past few seasons.
"The more familiarity they have with it, they're not thinking quite as much," Edwards said. "That helps them play because they've been through the experience as far as adjustments, as far as different things the offense is trying to do.
"I think the one thing we can do as we keep going with it is to keep using the strengths of our players and putting them in the best position to make plays," Edwards added.
The Vikings went 8-8 in 2016, with four of those losses coming by six or fewer points. Edwards noted Friday that by harping on potential game-like situations in practice, the defense could be more prepared when those scenarios arise in the fall.
"I think the big thing is that our players feel comfortable with situational football," Edwards said. "We spent a significant amount of time on situational football in the offseason and now.
"You put that with our calls … I think they're a lot more comfortable with them so that when they come up in the game, they've been through it, and we'll react a lot faster," Edwards added.
Here are four more topics that Edwards addressed during his media session:
1. Man of many hats
Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr has 9.5 sacks over the first three seasons of his career, and had made a pair of Pro Bowls.
Edwards was asked if there was a chance Barr could rush the quarterback more in 2017, and responded by saying the former first-round pick could do a little of everything if needed.
"We'll just have to see as we keep progressing down the road," Edwards said. "Again, we're trying to get these guys in the best position to take advantage of their skill set.
"Anthony wears a lot of different hats and he's pretty good at wearing those hats, and he's really had a good camp so far," Edwards added. "We'll look forward as we keep moving through camp and keep progressing down the road."
2. In it to win it
It remains to be seen if Edwards will call the defensive plays during the preseason, a move Zimmer has debated this offseason.
Edwards said Friday he is unsure on whether or not he will get those duties, but expanded on what he wants to get out of any preseason game.
In addition to trying to get a victory, Edwards noted, preseason games are a chance for players and coaches to get back into the groove of games and evaluate multiple areas.
"As a signal caller, whether calling defense in the preseason or regular season, you're calling them to win," Edwards said. "You're trying to get guys in the best position. Again, it's not like we went through and tried to stop a specific play that they run.
"You get into a preseason game, and it's more about executing what you have called. Whether it's we have a base coverage call or (a) sub (package) or whatever it is, the biggest thing is to get lined up and execute what we're trying to do. Like I said, there's no magical calls. It's about our guys lining up and executing."
View images from the Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice on Thursday, August 3.
3. A bump in play time?
Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander saw the field for 68 defensive plays as a rookie in 2016.
That number could change in a big way as the former second-round pick is in the mix to be Minnesota's slot cornerback in the nickel package.
Edwards said Friday that Alexander has improved significantly since 2016 and has committed himself to earning more snaps.
"He's really worked hard and has played pretty consistent for us throughout training camp so far," Edwards said. "Again, that process is just evaluation every day.
"When we get under the lights tomorrow and when we get to the preseason games, that's just going to continue on, but to his credit, he's really worked hard," Edwards added. "You can tell he's in tune to what we are asking him to do. Calls and communication he's been good, and he just has to keep progressing, learning, and keep improving each day."
4. Football weather in August
A summer afternoon practice in Mankato felt like October at Winter Park on Thursday.
Temperatures were in the mid-50s with a steady wind, and a light drizzle showed up the final portion of practice.
Edwards said he embraced the weather, even in August, because it threw an element of surprise at his defense.
"That helps us. Any time the wind is blowing, it can help with the accuracy of the quarterback and those kinds of things. We'll take it," Edwards said with a laugh. "It's been great weather here. Yesterday was a little cold, but that was a good experience for our guys to get out here.
"Coach talks about it all of the time. Times are going to change when we play games, elements are going to change when we play games, so that is one of those situations you have got to come out and stay focused on what it is we are trying to get accomplished," Edwards added.