While the Vikings players are taking the offseason to rest and recoup, the coaching staff is taking advantage of the time to continue grinding and prepare for the 2017 season.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer told Vikings.com that he loves this time of year because he's able to concentrate on the big picture versus preparing for a different game each week. Zimmer is currently homing in on the current roster, studying other teams and talking with his staff, both returning and recently hired coaches.
In contrast to past offseasons, Zimmer is personally involved in more of the offensive meetings. He said it's been beneficial to hear the coaches' opinions in the offensive room and insightful to hear them discuss other defenses, as well.
Zimmer spoke positively of Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur, who has officially assumed the role full time after stepping in as the interim coordinator when Norv Turner resigned midseason.
"Pat and I have a good relationship as far as our communication, and I think we have a healthy respect for [each other's] ideas," Zimmer said before adding that he wants to see the offense be more effective with the run than it was in 2016.
"I think that was the heart of the problem; we had way too many negative-yardage runs," Zimmer said. "We have to run the football better this year."
Shurmur spoke to media Friday and expressed similar sentiments about the level of communication between himself and Zimmer.
"I feel like we're very honest and frank with one another with what our thoughts are on really every topic related to the team," Shurmur said. "The dialogue is terrific because if we're doing something, he'll say, 'We're doing it this way, but these are the things that could give us problems on defense.' It becomes kind of a combination of things."
Zimmer is glad to have Shurmur leading the offense, and so are the players. A number of them said they appreciated Shurmur's coaching style when he initially started with the Vikings as a tight ends coach and were excited about having a second year to work with him.
Wide receiver Adam Thielen, who started his Minnesota career on special teams but last year impressed when given an increased offensive role, said he feels like he has a good understanding of Shurmur's philosophy.
"Even when he wasn't the offensive coordinator, he still had a lot of input and still communicated with us a lot," Thielen said. "It wasn't just a half a year for us. We felt like we knew him pretty well and knew what he liked to do. It was different, but it was all the same language."
Added Thielen: "The good thing about Pat is he emphasizes what you do well, so if you don't do something well, he's not going to put you in that situation. He's going to put you in the situation for you to succeed and do what you do best."
While Thielen and several teammates attested to quickly growing a chemistry with Shurmur, one player had a head start on building that rapport.
Quarterback Sam Bradford, whom the Vikings acquired via trade when Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 30, had spent time under Shurmur both with the Rams and with the Eagles prior to reuniting in Minnesota.
Bradford is preparing this offseason for his second year in purple, and both Shurmur and Zimmer have been impressed by his impact on the team so far.
"When he came in this year, everything was running parallel and real fast. He had to get up to speed with what we were doing and quickly learn the players he was playing with," Shurmur said. "That connection between the quarterback and skill players is extremely important.
"That chemistry is really built in the offseason when you get the chance to slow it down and run the individual routes within the concepts," Shurmur continued. "He gets a feel for their body language and vice versa, and that's where you're hopefully going to see a big jump in efficiency in terms of the pass game."
Zimmer said that with all things considered – the late joining of the team, new teammates, new home – he thought Bradford did a "really remarkable" job in 2016. Zimmer saw a toughness in Bradford that he hadn't necessarily anticipated, and he said that physical durability, combined with a persistent drive to win, makes Bradford a special player.
After defining Bradford as "a good guy and a tremendous athlete," Zimmer recalled a conversation he had with the quarterback during the season.
"One time I sat down with him, because everything was so hectic when he came in that I didn't get a chance, and I said, 'Did you play basketball?' " Zimmer said. "Well, he was a heck of a basketball player. He could go out and shoot par [in golf] now. He won the Heisman Trophy … he's good at everything."
Zimmer is happy with many pieces currently in place for the 2017 season, but there are also several areas in which he knows the Vikings need to improve.
As the offseason rolls on, he will continue to refine the proverbial game plan.
"We finished 8-8 [in 2016], which is disappointing, and that's probably a good thing," Zimmer said. "We're not happy to be where we are."
Added Zimmer: "There's an old saying where the first step in going somewhere is deciding you're not going to stay where you're at."