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Vikings Offense Aims for More First Downs in 2016

The Vikings feel they have unfinished business.

After a strong 11-5 regular season and narrow loss in the Wild Card playoff game, Minnesota's 2015 season didn't end the way the team anticipated. Offensively, the Vikings know they can do more.

"That's just the start of us," said running back Matt Asiata during a recent Q&A session with fans in Caledonia, Minnesota. "We have a lot of young players and a lot of great additions to our team this [offseason]. We just have to continue our focus and win more games."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer maintains a mindset that his team can always make progress on both sides of the ball. During his year-end press conference in January, however, Zimmer made a few specific comments about needed improvements on offense.

Beyond addressing issues with the offensive line, Zimmer pinpointed other aspects with room for development in 2016.

"There [were] a lot of areas that we didn't do very well offensively," Zimmer said. "We didn't get enough first downs, we weren't a very good passing offense. We were good in rushing offense, but we've got to get a lot better [offensively], that's for sure."

The Vikings averaged 18.6 first downs per game in 2015, which tied for 28th. The Saints led the league in the category with 23.8 per game.

Zimmer isn't the only one stressing goals for the offense – the players themselves have also set objectives for themselves.

Wide receiver Charles Johnson emphasized wanting to complement the Vikings defense. Johnson joined Asiata and Isaac Fruechte in the Caledonia Town Takeover. During the visit, he answered a fan question about keys to success for 2016.

"Our defense is stellar, and we have to keep building on that offense," Johnson said. "We need to help them out a little bit more this year. [As] offensive players, we know that we didn't play as well as we should have last year. Our defense was so good, and we just have to keep continuing to grind and win more games than we lose."

One emphasis has been on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, entering his third NFL season. Bridgewater recently spent time training in Florida with members of his tight end and receiving corps, including Johnson.

"Every day [Teddy] comes to work, and he wants to be perfect," Johnson said. "Nobody's perfect, but he tries to be."

While there, Johnson said Bridgewater showed him a new pair of gloves he had made with "G.U.M.P" on them. The acronym often used by Bridgewater stands for "Great Under Major Pressure," and Johnson said it's an accurate description for the quarterback.

"I like to say he was a rookie in a veteran's body," Johnson said of Bridgewater. "He would go out there and just do things you wouldn't see from a rookie […] I think he's going to be great. I'm blessed to work with him, and I think he's going to be a great asset for our team going forward. He's only going to get better."

Asiata also expressed confidence in the direction Bridgewater is headed and his ability to lead the Vikings offense next season.

"I love the guy. He's humble, soft-spoken, but he speaks loud on the field," Asiata said. "He's really not a 'rah-rah' guy, but he's just really focused and tries to stay disciplined to his work and to his craft every time he hits the field."

View the latest aerial construction photos of U.S. Bank Stadium from all angles from late March of 2016.

The Vikings will be moving indoors to U.S. Bank Stadium for the 2016 season after playing consecutive seasons outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium, and the consensus is the same – offensively, Minnesota needs to advance the ball better.

"[We need to stay] consistent," Asiata said. "Move the ball down the field, get first downs, score in the red zone. [We need to] have each other's backs and help Teddy move around the pocket and get the ball downfield to the receivers."

Johnson echoed Asiata's thoughts as well.

"If we can get first downs, we score touchdowns," Johnson said. "We can't go out there and have turnovers, we can't have short drives. We just have to continue moving the ball."

As a bigger-bodied receiver, Johnson said his personal objective this offseason has been improving his breakaway speed.

"Right now I'm focusing more on quick-twitch muscles and trying to gain a little bit of quickness," Johnson said. "I'm not a guy who's going to go out there and shake anybody – I'm more of a power guy, running fast. That's my key offseason focus."

The goal for the Vikings offense is clear, and the foundation is set to make the necessary improvements headed into the 2016 season.

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