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'Why' Emphasized as Vikings Offensive Staff Teaches 'What'

EAGAN, Minn. — Overarching questions permeate the football world this time of year.

On the outside, the chatter often involves 'Who will make the 53-man roster?' Or, 'Which teams are most likely to make the playoffs?'

Inside Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, Vikings coaches are working through the "teaching and learning" mode of what to do, particularly in a new-look offense led by first-year Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski. A bevy of assistants were hired this offseason, and the interior of the line was overhauled.

The group is emphasizing the "whys" as it covers the "whats," an approach that is appreciated by players at multiple positions.

"I think it's really a part of our teaching philosophy," Stefanski said. "If the guys understand the 'whys,' they start to get a global understanding of what we're trying to do.

"We spend a lot of time in our offensive meeting room, and then we're teaching technique [in position groups], but at the same time we're trying to explain to the guys exactly why and how and when we're going to do these things," he added. "That informs, I think, their understanding of our offense."

Stefanski said on Monday that the unit is working its way through an installation schedule, and "once we get through those installs, then we will start getting ready to play some football games."

The Vikings full team practiced for the past four days, including Sunday and Monday in pads. After an off day on Tuesday, four more consecutive days of practices will culminate with the night practice at TCO Stadium.

Minnesota opens its preseason slate at New Orleans on Aug. 9.

Somehow, that date sounds so close yet so far. In the meantime, players will focus on soaking up the whys to help them deliver the whats.

Veteran quarterback Sean Mannion, whose previous experience in Los Angeles has helped his transition, explained the value of focusing on the whys.

"Every system is going to have little details that are different, maybe a different philosophy, a different adjustment you need to make," Mannion said. "I think when you understand, 'Hey, what's our reasoning for making this call?' I think that's when you really know it, so you're always learning something new.

"Even when you show up for the first day, and you're on the day-one install and kind of the most basic forms of our offense, you're still picking up things you missed last time or even a couple of years before," he added.

Josh Kline, who spent his first three pro seasons with the Patriots and the past three with the Titans, said focusing on the whys is very important because players "have to know the ins and outs of everything."

"That's crucial to the learning process in football. Some guys learn differently, so you have to explain the whole scheme to everyone," Kline said. "As offensive linemen, we have to know what the quarterback, running back and wide receivers are doing, just like the wide receivers have to know what we're doing. We're all linked together."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the offense is meeting "together as a whole a lot more" than in the past.

"I think they start to see why this is being called, why this is being run," Zimmer said. "The coaches are doing a good job of trying to explain, 'This is why we're doing this' and 'This is how this can help us,' and go from there.

The defense has met together often during Zimmer's tenure. He said offenses can be "pretty segregated" by position group, but that is changing this year.

"I always think it's better if everybody meets together because tight ends need to know what the tackles are doing, and the backs might need to know how the tight end is blocking a particular play," Zimmer said. "I think that's always good if you can do that. Then, you've got to have time separated, too, to be able to go over the finer details of things, too."

Kline said the structure of the group meetings makes sense.

"You have to play complementary football," Kline said. "So yeah, that's just the game in itself, and the offense as a whole, all 11 guys have to do their job to have success on the play. That's how the game is."

Safety Harrison Smith's position is connected to other posts within the defense.

"I can't speak for the offense because I've never been in an offensive meeting, but as a defense it helps to know where a linebacker is, or a corner, or whatever," Smith said. "If you're a safety, the guys around you, what's happening up front? It just allows you to be a little surer of what you're doing and knowing where your help is."

The Vikings defense has logged multiple top-10 rankings for the past several seasons under Zimmer, who was hired in 2014, including in 2017 when Minnesota led the NFL in yards allowed and points against. Now, the offense is on a quest to give opposing defenses more problems.

Receiver Adam Thielen said he believes the offense is in "a good spot" after the first week of training camp because the group has been able to build on what was learned in the offseason program.

"Obviously, there's a lot of changes and little things that I'm sure we'll put in along these next couple weeks, but it's been exciting," Thielen said. "It's been fun to learn the system, and hopefully we can keep continuing to grow and make it our own."

Why not?