EAGAN, Minn. – Kennedy Polamalu is a familiar face within a new-look Vikings offensive coaching staff heading into the 2019 season.
Polamalu is entering his third season as Minnesota’s running backs coach and is excited about this year’s group.
“I like the way they go about it. They’re professionals. They know how to prepare,” Polamalu recently told Vikings.com’s Mike Wobschall. “They come with the energy every day, and they know I love the enthusiasm. There’s a standard that we’re looking for, and they try to bring it every day.”
With Vikings Verizon Training Camp on the horizon (rookies and select other players arrive on July 22 while veterans report on July 26), Vikings.com is looking at Minnesota’s group of assistant coaches and their position groups.
Here is a quick bio on Polamalu:
– Before joining the Vikings in 2017, Polamalu spent time with two other NFL teams. He coached with the Cleveland Browns in 2004 and served as the Jaguars running backs coach from 2005-09. The Jaguars made a pair of playoff appearances during Polamalu’s time in Florida.
– Polamalu is the uncle of former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who was a two-time All-American at USC (also Kennedy’s alma mater) before the Steelers selected him with the 16th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. Troy Polamalu spent 12 seasons in Pittsburgh, making eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams.
– Polamalu’s first name has historical significance. Born on Nov. 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, he was named for the former President. Polamalu also changed his last name a few years ago. He was born Kennedy Pola but decided to extend his last name when he visited his birthplace of American Samoa in 2011.
This season will also mark Polamalu’s third working with Vikings 2017 draft pick Dalvin Cook.
Cook’s rookie campaign got off to a bright start before the running back out of Florida State suffered a torn ACL in Week 4. Then in 2018, he struggled with a nagging hamstring injury that sidelined him for five games. Cook is looking to bounce back with a healthy 2019, and Polamalu believes he can do it.
The coach called Cook’s spring “an excellent, excellent offseason,” stretching from voluntary Organized Team Activities to the Vikings minicamp, which wrapped up at the end of June.
“I just like the way his work ethic stays humble. I think this is an elite jump for him,” Polamalu said.
He also praised Cook’s personality and obvious love for the game. The 23-year-old always appears to have fun on the field.
While the playbook is certainly a large focus for Polamalu in the classroom and on the practice field, he also encourages his players to implement something you might friend surprising: laughter.
Polamalu pointed out that laughter brings an extra level of enthusiasm to the game, and it’s an aspect of the game that comes naturally for Cook.
“It becomes contagious; your teammates see that,” Polamalu said. “Now, obviously we know when to be serious. But there’s times that you’ve got to enjoy this thing, and if you don’t, it’s a long NFL season. Now that [Dalvin is] going into his third year, he’s starting to understand it’s a grind and the mental, the emotional, the physical part. And you have to find time to enjoy it, or it’s going to drain you.”
With the departure of Latavius Murray in free agency, the Vikings used their third-round draft pick to add Boise State standout Alexander Mattison to the group.
Mattison played three seasons for the Broncos and became the program’s first player to lead the Mountain West Conference in a season by totaling 1,415 rushing yards as a junior in 2018.
Polamalu said Mattison “gets stronger and stronger” with each rep.
“He can drop his hips. He can lower his pads. And he’s smart,” Polamalu said of the rookie. “And then off the field, all the boxes are checked. He’s a good young man, he’s a good teammate, accountable, and he’s going to be a young man that I think will make an impact.
“He’s no surprise because that’s what we saw on film, and he’s added more by his character,” Polamalu added.
Mattison is learning all he can from Cook, as well as Ameer Abdullah, whom the Vikings signed in November, and fullback C.J. Ham.
Abdullah played three-plus seasons for the division-rival Lions before Detroit released him late last season. Since trading in the blue-and-silver jersey for Vikings Purple, Abdullah has impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic and athleticism.
“He’s starting to do it our way, the Viking way. When he first came here, he had some things that we talked about and we worked on,” Polamalu said. “He worked on his ball security, he worked on pass protection, understanding how to fit and use, he’s not a big guy, but [he uses] his strengths – his explosiveness, speed and quickness – to his advantage, and he had an outstanding offseason.”
Ham is entering his fourth NFL season. The native of Duluth, Minnesota, signed as an undrafted free agent after competing in the Vikings 2016 rookie minicamp on a tryout basis.
Ham has continued to play a larger role on offense and special teams each season, and Polamalu feels that 2019 will be an especially big opportunity for him under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak, whom the Vikings hired this offseason.
“This system that Coach Stefanski and Kubiak, everybody that’s put this system together over time, [they’ve always] had that fullback, that athletic fullback-type, and this system fits him so perfect,” Polamalu. “He’s also a four-team, four-core-team specialist, another [high] character off the field.”
He added of Ham: “He’s a great husband, great son. I just love that kid.”
Polamalu will also be working with Roc Thomas and Mike Boone, both of whom joined the Vikings as undrafted free agents in 2018, and fullback Khari Blasingame, who signed with Minnesota after this year’s rookie minicamp.
Polamalu called the entire Vikings running back room “a good group.”
“They have all the skills, now we just have to keep putting them in pressure situations so that they can compete and limit the errors,” he said. “And when they do that, we have a pretty good chance.”