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Vikings Offensive Coaches Planning Marriage of Run & Pass Games

EAGAN, Minn. — Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the marriage of the run game and the pass game.

Considerable effort of Vikings offensive coaches this offseason will be put toward that kind of matrimony on game days this fall.

That much was clear on Thursday when new Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski described the construction of the staff and the mindset that a blend of incoming veterans Gary Kubiak (assistant head coach/offensive advisor), Rick Dennison (offensive line coach/run game coordinator), Brian Pariani (tight ends) and younger coaches Drew Petzing (receivers) and Klint Kubiak (quarterbacks) are applying.

All but Petzing, who assisted Stefanski with quarterbacks last season, are new to the organization, even though Klint Kubiak previously coached for the Vikings from 2013-14.

Minnesota's offense ranked 20th overall in 2018, finishing 13th in passing yardage but 30th in rushing yardage.

Head Coach Mike Zimmer has spoken about wanting to run the ball more and do so more effectively this season.

Stefanski said he's admired the way that the run game and pass game have complemented each other in Gary Kubiak's offensive system over the years.

"Coach Kubiak is somebody as a young coach years ago — still a young coach, I hope — I sat down and watched his offense and really admired what the guy did with the offensive football team, marrying the run and pass game, which is a big part of who we are right now," Stefanski said. "I remember watching and trying to understand how he was running those keepers back then, so now he's the guy in the room with us. That's the coach, and I can just tell you as a person, the guy's reputation is sterling, as I'm sure all of you know, so I'm pleased and excited to work with Coach Kub'."

Stefanski said running the ball with success can make play-action passes more effective, create an imbalance for defenses and help quarterback Kirk Cousins, who excelled in multiple statistical categories but also faced excessive pressure from rushers in his first season.

"For the focus of us moving forward, where we want to help our quarterback is be — and I think it's something that we all believe in — we want to be unpredictable," Stefanski said. "We want to be a run team, a pass team. We want to have that marriage between the run game and the pass game. I think that's something that Coach [Kubiak] has kind of hung his hat on over the years, and that's going all the way back to his years — it's pretty cool when they're telling stories and linking all the way back to Bill Walsh."

Kubiak pragmatically said, "I think you have to do what you have to do to win," before adding, "but I know the head guy here wants to be physical … he wants to be mentally and physically tough as a football team. I think that's where winning starts."

Kubiak pointed to the Super Bowl LIII Champion Patriots as a team that thrived by running the ball effectively in a pass-happy era of the NFL. New England ranked fifth in overall offense, fifth in rushing and eighth in passing during the regular season.

"Every good offense I've ever been around, personally, runs the ball pretty well," Kubiak said. "I sat down and watched New England run the heck out of the football this season. I believe in that and think it gives you a chance to make big plays. Like Kevin said, we're trying to marry everything we're doing with the run and pass."

Kubiak, 57, explained the mutual respect he has for Stefanski, 36, and what Zimmer adds from a defensive perspective.

"It makes you feel old in that meeting room," Kubiak said when asked about Stefanski watching his system from afar. "Zim' comes in our meetings, too, and I love that. As a coach, I think that's so important. We're getting Zim's defensive perspective, Kevin is getting my perspective on how I've called things over the years and how I may teach the progression on the quarterback. He's getting a lot of information there, and it's not like it's just one set of eyes. He has really good eyes looking at things, and we're all heading in the right direction."

The 2019 season will be Stefanski's 14th consecutive with the Vikings organization. He's worked his way up from an assistant to former Head Coach Brad Childress (2006-08) to assistant quarterbacks (2009-13) to tight ends (2014-15) to running backs (2016) to quarterbacks (2017-18). Stefanski served as interim offensive coordinator for the final three games of the 2018 season.

"Looking from afar as an older coach who has done this, I've loved Kevin's past," Kubiak said. "He started as an intern and now he's a coordinator, and Kevin is going to be a head coach in the National Football League one day. I think that's really neat to see."

Stefanski confirmed Thursday that he will call plays and be on the sidelines during games, and Kubiak said he plans to be a set of eyes in the sky from the coaches' booth.

Stefanski said he has enjoyed the exchange of ideas and Dennison's focus on the run game.

Dennison described some overarching goals for the Vikings offense in his first session with reporters.

"Obviously we want to threaten the defense, make them play all plays – not just the run, not just the pass – and make them defend every part of the field," Dennison said. "That's what we'll try to do."

He emphasized the importance of being persistent with the run game and making sure that every player executes on every play.

"And then trying to marry the play-actions with the runs, and I think we'll do that," Dennison said. "Because those ingredients, you know, puts pressure on the defense. If the quarterback breaks contain, who's got him? If he's got him, then who's got the cut-back? There's a lot of elements, and when you install a game, install the system, that's what you're trying to work on. Making sure that all the pieces are taken care of, try not to slack, try not to miss anything. Get your players to believe and execute.

Pariani explained the role that versatility in tight ends can play in marrying the run and pass games.

"It's important because it's kind of tied into what Rick was talking about with the offensive line and quarterbacks do," Pariani said. "It's very important because you have to be able to run block in this offense, you have to be able to pass protect, obviously, you have to run routes and pull coverage and those kinds of things and beat man [coverage], but the biggest thing is you've got to have the mentality to be tough to play in the NFL, and I think the kids that are in that room are tough and physical — you guys probably know them better than I do — and they're dedicated to what they do in the profession. I think it's going to be a positive outcome for the offense as we go forward."