EAGAN, Minn. – Kevin Stefanski stepped into a new role this week, but he retains a familiarity and relationship with Vikings players.
The Vikings promoted Stefanski to interim offensive coordinator Tuesday after relieving John DeFilippo of his duties there. Stefanski, who has been with the team since 2006, served most recently as Minnesota's quarterbacks coach, working closely with Kirk Cousins.
Moving forward through the last three games in the regular season, Stefanski said he's looking forward to input from Cousins as well as other offensive players.
"Kirk's always been vocal about what he likes, doesn't like, and I've encouraged him to continue to do that," Stefanski told Twin Cities media members Thursday. "On that note, we're really fortunate to have a lot of smart players here – Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen – you can kind of go across the board. So I'm open to suggestions from all those guys, because they're the ones out there doing it. I have a really good dialogue, we as a staff have a really good dialogue with those guys, and I hope that continues."
Stefanski said he "has a pretty good feel" for what Cousins best excels at and wants to "maximize his potential" by staying within his comfort zone.
"Like anything, you're trying to find that balance of what you do well and what hurts the defense," Stefanski said.
Cousins was described by Stefanski as being "very cerebral," and the new interim coordinator has a lot of confidence in Cousins' approach to the game.
"I think, like anything, you're trying to find that balance of what you do well and what hurts the defense. And in certain games, that varies. But I have a pretty good feel for what Kirk's good at, and it's a lot of things, obviously, but I think we have a good feel for what he's good at, trying to maximize his potential by giving him some things that he's comfortable with.
"He understands the game," Stefanski said. "There's no shortage of film that you can watch with him. So I really appreciate [that] he's a grinder, and that kind of matches our head coach, matches our team, that he's ready to do whatever it takes to win. And in particular, his preparation is extremely impressive."
Here are other topics discussed by Stefanski, Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer:
Stefanski on his sports background
Sports run in the Stefanski family.
Kevin's father, Ed, was a 10th-round draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1976 NBA Draft and later went on to work at the executive level of a number of NBA teams, including Philadelphia. Currently, Ed serves as a senior executive with the Detroit Pistons.
Kevin said he "fell in love" with football at a young age and was better on the field than on a court.
"It's just something I did early, growing up, and stuck with and am really enjoying myself," said Kevin Stefanski, who played defensive back at the University of Pennsylvania prior to joining the coaching world.
Stefanski said his father was "very instrumental" in his upbringing and that he appreciates being able to rely on that support.
"Having him in this profession, albeit basketball, is helpful because the pressures of winning and losing and the beauty of our sport – and just sports [in general] – is that you get charged every week with a win or a loss, and he's somebody that will commiserate with a loss and understand how it goes with a win," Stefanski said.
Edwards on the Dolphins offense
After missing all of the 2017 season with an injury, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been back at the helm in Miami for eight games this season.
Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase told Miami-area media members earlier this week that he expects Tannehill to play Sunday "unless something crazy happens."
Edwards said the Dolphins are "without a doubt" a different offense when Tannehill is leading the way.
"He looks like he's making smart decisions, is the biggest thing you see. They don't have a lot of turnovers … and I think that's a credit to his decision-making," Edwards said. "Not throwing a lot of interceptions, they haven't been turning the ball over and those kinds of things. They look like, offensively with him in there, he's a lot more comfortable with what they're expecting and what they're doing from situation to situation. So we'll have our work cut out for us this weekend; hopefully we can affect him."
Edwards said the Dolphins are capable of making explosive plays, particularly on first and second downs. So far this season, Miami has recorded 1,984 yards from scrimmage on first-down plays and 1,381 yards from scrimmage on second downs. Third-down plays have yielded only 894 yards, in comparison.
"Third down and the similar situation stuff, they're not ranked as high as a lot of teams in the league, but you look at their big-play ability, they are making some big plays in the early downs," Edwards said.
Edwards on Kearse's versatility
Edwards was asked about the strides that third-year safety Jayron Kearse has made. The Vikings have utilized Kearse not only in the safety role but also as a nickel cornerback in various personnel packages.
"He's stepped in. He's done that in the past for us, and he's doing it now, where it's certain situations that we've got him involved in different positions in the secondary. He's shown ability to be able to handle that, which is good for us," Edwards said.
"He's got exceptional height and length, and I think being able to reach out and touch receivers, especially in the red zone, trying to throw the ball over him in certain situations, we've played him – matching him up on different tight ends from week to week, when they come out in two-tight end formations or personnel groupings," Edwards added. "I think it's his ability to understand what we're doing schematically and being able to take advantage of his skill set."
Priefer on the Dolphins special teams
Priefer commented on Miami's special teams unit. Jakeem Grant was a dynamic returner for them, averaging 29.7 yards per kickoff return and a whopping 16.3 yards per punt return, but landed on Injured Reserve with an Achilles injury in November.
Since Grant's injury, Priefer explained that the Dolphins have had more of a "punt-rush focus" and have been very effective there.
"I mean, they line up eight in the box, and they're looping guys, they're reverse-twist, twist, inside twist, snapper picks – you name it, they've done it – and they do it really, really well," Priefer said. "And they have a lot of confidence in it. So that's going to be a big challenge for our punt team Sunday afternoon – protecting the launch point, Matt [Wile] getting a good punt out of there and our gunners going down and making plays."
Priefer on blocked FG at Seattle
At Seattle on Monday Night Football, Dan Bailey's fourth-quarter field goal attempt was blocked by Bobby Wagner, who leap-frogged over the line and made contact with the ball.
A flag was initially thrown and then picked up by the official, despite the fact that Wagner used teammates as leverage when jumping over the line.
"It was illegal. I'm sure the young man (Wagner) was doing what he was taught to do. He got away with it, it was a missed call, and that happens in football, to be quite honest with you," Priefer said. "It's a hard call to make, and they missed it, and this week – we had a field goal meeting this morning, and I showed it, I told them it's a learning moment.
"How do we need to handle it? We can't always have the official bail us out. We have to do a better job protecting, we have to do a better job getting the ball up in the air, and we have to make every kick that we're asked to make," Priefer continued. "So at the end of the day, we're making no excuses, we're going to move on and be better because of it."