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Thielen: Vikings offense already achieving run-pass deception at OTAs

EAGAN. — The offseason talk surrounding the Minnesota Vikings’ offense has largely been about the addition of Gary Kubiak.

The core principal of his system, which has spanned three decades in the NFL, is working play-action passes off zone run plays. Wide receiver Adam Thielen said that throughout the last three weeks of Organized Team Activities, he’s seen the Vikings’ defense scramble to figure out where the ball is going.

“I think it’s hard for defenses to differ between pass and run, it opens up the pass game, it opens up the run game,” Thielen said. “You see it out here at practice, our defense doesn’t know where the ball is going, they don’t know which one to play. That’s when you sit in the film room and say, ‘this is why [Kubiak] has had success, this is why we’re putting this in and why we feel confident about it.’ The results will speak for themselves. That’s why we have to master it, because there’s a lot of different nuances, a lot of things we have to figure out as receivers to try to make things look the same so defenses don’t know what’s coming.”

The scheme will more closely resemble what quarterback Kirk Cousins’ used in Washington in 2016 when current Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay acted as his offensive coordinator. Last year there were 26 quarterbacks (with at least 200 drop backs) who used play-action more often than Cousins but he registered a 116.1 rating (seventh) when using a play-fake, according to Pro Football Focus.

“It feels like a really good fit for the playmakers we have, for the quarterback we have and for the offensive line,” Thielen said.

Head coach Mike Zimmer pointed out that role that offensive line coach Rick Dennison will play in  finding creative ways to force defenses to hesitate.

“I think a lot of it will be with the schematic part of things but as you get going in that and marrying the run game to the pass game and as far as the teaching part of it, you can tell he’s like a professor out there,” Zimmer said. “All the little intricacies of offensive line play, I think he’s been outstanding.”

One challenge for the Vikings is asking players to learn another new offense. Veteran playmakers like Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph are working on their fourth offense in the Zimmer era.

Thielen said he doesn’t mind being asked to handle a new playbook.

“I feel like we made some really good progress,” he said. “We have a long ways to go but we have a lot of time before the first game. It keeps it fresh for us as veterans coming out here and try to master this system and try to be great at it. It humbles you when you have a new offense and you have to learn a new playbook because you mess up just because the rookies do.”

While the vets are used to diving into an unfamiliar scheme, there aren’t many experienced players in the receiving corps. Of the 11 players battling for five or six spots on the roster, only Thielen, Diggs, Jordan Taylor and Laquon Treadwell have more than two years in the NFL. The Vikings drafted two receivers in the seventh round in Dillon Mitchell and Bisi Johnson. Both Chad Beebe and Brandon Zylstra came into camp as undrafted free agents last year and made contributions in 2018.

“It seems like all of them are ready to work and really love the game of football,” Thielen said of the young group. “It’s actually been a fun couple of weeks getting to know them and seeing them work on the field. I think it’s the most passionate group I’ve been around as far as rookie receivers. They want to learn, they want to get better when they don’t do things well and you like to see that.”

He added:

“It’s not easy learning an NFL playbook and they’re going to have mistakes. They’re going to be coached hard as rookies. It’s always good to see that don’t take it offensively and don’t get down on themselves and want to prove that they can play at this level and every one of these guys have done that.”

Zimmer said that the race for the WR3 spot is very much up in the air.

“I think it’s a good group,” ZImmer said. “I don’t know that anyone has really kind of separated themselves. They’re all pretty decent. Bisi [Johnson] looks good at times, Dillon [Mitchell] looks good at times. Those guys kind of show out a little bit. They’re all making little rookie mistakes right now, but as we go forward I think someone will separate themselves here.”


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