The week of practice is over and the Vikings are set for their game this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Here's what we learned this week about the Vikings as they prepared for Week 12.
Points of emphasis: Tackling, tackling, tacklingIn listening to Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards' press conference on Thursday, it's clear tackling has been a point of emphasis for the team this week. In answering 11 questions, Edwards said some version of the word "tackle" 18 times. Missed tackles by the Vikings defense in last week's game allowed the Chicago Bears to extend drives and put points on the board. After watching back that game and in preparing for the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings clearly feel an improvement in this basic aspect of the game in necessary.
"We've got to do a good job of tackling, which we didn't do last week," Edwards said. "We know coming into this game and after playing these guys the first time that you've got to do a good job of tackling (Eddie) Lacy."
The Vikings defense has been solid for much of the season and is vastly improved from last year's group under the guidance of Mike Zimmer and Edwards. But even with that improvement coming as quickly and profoundly as it is, Zimmer and Edwards are still preaching the basics to their players.
"I think it boils down to the attention to detail the angle, getting there, wrapping up, driving your feet on contact," Edwards explained. "So, we had to go back to the fundamentals of tackling and really put the emphasis on that because anytime you're playing a back like we had last week, a back this week, that's able to break tackles after the initial blow, we've got to do a good job of wrapping up and emphasizing those things within the tackling technique."
Zimmer's aggressive style extends to special teams, tooPerhaps the most commonly-used adjective to describe Zimmer in his first year guiding the Vikings has been aggressive. That word has been used with regard to his defense and his defensive philosophy.
After the Vikings successful fake punt attempt last week in Chicago and in listening to Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, though, it sounds like the aggressive mentality Zimmer displays while coaching his defense extends to other facets of the team, too.
"He's been aggressive since he got here," Priefer said on Thursday. "He asked me back in the offseason about running fakes. Field goal fakes, punt fakes, surprise onsides, and it has forced me to be more creative, which is good. It's a good problem to have. Not a problem, it's a good opportunity for me to get our guys excited about a big play like that, and obviously they were very excited to run it and succeed with it."
The successful fake punt, which netted the Vikings 48 yards and set the offense up to score a touchdown on the following play, was the first fake punt attempt by the Vikings since 2004.
Chemistry is formed in practices, not gamesThe Vikings have a rookie quarterback throwing to mostly young receivers. That combination, while exciting because of potential, also provides some growing pains from time-to-time. On Thursday, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner said he can see chemistry developing between Teddy Bridgewater and his receivers.
But that wasn't the only thing he said about chemistry between his quarterback and receivers. While most everyone watches the games to see if the Vikings passing game looks better and, thus, to see if chemistry is developing, Turner says it's actually practices during the week where that cohesion is formed.
"As I've said, to me Wednesday, Thursday, Friday practices are critical in terms of their development," Turner said, "and that's how they are going to get better – how they practice, what they do in practice, the things that show up in practice – and then you want it to show up in the game and sometimes it does and sometimes it's harder because teams are going to do things to take plays away."
Turner is confident in Jerick McKinnonWhether talking about producing this week while dealing with a back injury or long-term as a potential full-time running back, it's clear Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner has confidence in Jerick McKinnon.
"I think he's elusive, he's got very good vision, he's got outstanding quickness and he's more powerful than he looks," Turner said on Thursday. "He catches the ball extremely well. He does a great job. There were some questions when we drafted him and early in camp if he'd be able to protect but he's done an excellent job mentally and physically in protection."
The Vikings selected McKinnon in the third round of this year's draft and he joined a running back stable that included veterans Matt Asiata and Adrian Peterson. And now the Vikings have added another veteran running back in Ben Tate, who was signed this week. Some thought it would take time for McKinnon to transition to the pro game, but varying circumstances have increased McKinnon's playing time and have accelerated his development.