It's somewhat hard to believe, but Vikings players will begin their offseason workout program next month.
The first steps the team takes together at the team's new headquarters — Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center — will be led by Minnesota's strength and conditioning coaches.
The voluntary offseason program follows a progression, eventually allowing coaches to work with players on the fields and have organized team activity practices and a mandatory minicamp in June.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said during Thursday's podium session with media at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine that he's already working on the message to the team that totaled 13 wins in the regular season and advanced to the NFC Championship.
"I think we can get a lot better," Zimmer said. "There's a lot of things, you know, I've got a list of like seven things on offense, seven things on defense, some things on special teams, that I feel like in order for us to make the next jump we have to improve on. We did that a year ago, and quite honestly, all the things we talked about a year ago, we improved quite a bit.
"So if we can continue to do those things and keep understanding that we haven't arrived, we still have a lot of work to do," Zimmer added. "If we can continue to improve in some of these areas, hopefully we can take the next step."
Last offseason, Zimmer drilled into the team the importance of being better on third downs, particularly in the red zone, and it made a significant difference. Minnesota's offense went from a success rate of 38.0 (tied for 18th in NFL) on third downs in 2016 to 43.5 percent (third) in 2017.
The defense clamped down from an allowance rate of 38.8 (14th) in 2016 to 25.3 in 2017, which was the best in NFL history since 1991 when the league began tracking that stat.
Here are four other topics addressed by Zimmer Thursday:
1. Value of continuity
Zimmer has seen the value of continuity, particularly with Minnesota's defense in four seasons.
The nucleus of one of the NFL's best units is expected to remain together in 2018, and Zimmer is hoping to have as much of a similar effect on the offense, even though it will be led by new Offensive Coordinator John DeFelippo.
"I think anytime you're with players for a long time, they can understand the things you're trying to say, the communication between one another, all the different things, we can make adjustments a lot quicker now than obviously my first year," Zimmer said. "I think that's really important."
Zimmer said DeFilippo obviously will have input as the Vikings make decisions at quarterback, but he asked the former Eagles quarterbacks coach to keep the terminology used by Minnesota under former Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur "the same."
"I think he's going to have an input on quarterbacks," Zimmer said. "I feel like, each of us are experts in certain areas. Obviously he's an expert in the quarterback area.
"We'll sit down collectively as a group, and we'll say, 'OK, here's the order that we want to go and how we want to go about our business.' He'll obviously have a big say, but it'll be a collective group effort," Zimmer continued. "He doesn't know Teddy as well or [Case] as well as some of our guys. ... So our input on those two guys will be important."
Zimmer said he was encouraged by improvements that the offense made this season and believes the unit can take another step forward.
"I didn't want to come in and change the terminology and make the players learn all different things, so what we're trying do is keep the terminology the same," Zimmer said. "Obviously, there's going to be some certain plays you're going to run no matter who the quarterback is, but once we decide on the quarterback, we're going to throw certain plays out, add certain plays to the ability of what these players can do."
2. Started with the offensive line
Zimmer was asked if he had studied the quarterbacks in this year's draft class and was completely frank.
"Quite honestly, I haven't studied them at all," Zimmer said. "We've been so busy with the free agency and all the other things, I'm in the process now of looking at the offensive line, and then I'll look at the defensive line next, and then I'll move on to probably corners and safeties, and then we'll get to the quarterbacks later on."
3. On Dalvin and divvying up the load
The Vikings are pleased with the progress that 2017 second-round pick Dalvin Cook is making in his recovery from a torn ACL that was suffered on Oct. 1.
General Manager Rick Spielman provided an update on Cook and the running game on Wednesday. Zimmer on Thursday said the Vikings still believe Cook will reach his potential but also stressed the importance of keeping running backs fresh over the course of a season.
"Dalvin is an unbelievable player. Dalvin's a great player, and Dalvin will probably get the majority of the carries, but we have to be mindful of the fact that it's a 16-game season, hopefully longer than that, and he's going to get an awful lot of hits," Zimmer said. "We have to not put him on a pitch count, but we have to be able to understand that this is a long season and be able to get him out in certain situations. Dalvin's a three-down back, Latavius can do the same thing. I think it's good to have the change of pace in there with those guys."
4. New coaches in the NFC North
With new head coaches in Chicago (Matt Nagy) and Detroit (Matt Patricia) and Green Bay bringing in Joe Philbin (offensive coordinator) and Mike Pettine (defensive coordinator), Zimmer was asked about all of the changes in the NFC North this offseason.
"I'm just glad the Vikings don't have a new coach," Zimmer quipped. "Chicago and Detroit, they're going to change some players, obviously. I think Chicago's defense is gonna stay the same. Detroit, we don't really know. Their offense should stay the same. And Green Bay, I think offensively they're going to stay pretty much the same. We'll just have to look back on the track records of the coordinators and where they are. But hopefully we'll play them later on in the season, we'll have more tape on them and then we'll adjust."