EAGAN — The Minnesota Vikings’ new offensive and co-defensive coordinators will not need any maps of the campus at TCO Performance Center or new key fobs to get into the building. They won’t have to ask where to park or where to find a lunch menu. But the new positions for OC Gary Kubiak and DCs Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer offer plenty of differences from previous years.
Shortly after offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski took a head coaching position with the Cleveland Browns, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer dropped by Kubiak’s office to offer him the position. Kubiak didn’t take much time to think before accepting the job.
“We got back from San Francisco and coach [Mike Zimmer] had given us some time off and I just said, ‘Coach, mind if I go back home, and mow some grass for a couple days or something and think about it?'” Kubiak said. “But I told him two days and I think I called him in about a day and a half, so I was just really excited to do it.”
Last year with the offense operating Kubiak’s system with the Kubiak crew of long-time offensive assistants Rick Dennison, Brian Pariani and Klint Kubiak on the staff the Vikings posted their best offensive numbers of the Zimmer era, ranking eighth in points scored and 10th in yards per offensive play. But Kubiak was working in an adviser to the offense while Stefanski called the shots. Now he’ll be back at the helm as play caller for the first time since 2016.
“I look forward to it,” Kubiak said of calling plays again. “It’s something I’ve done for what 26-27 years, so I’ve done it, but I also think it’s something you have to prepare to do. Zim’s got to put me back to work, put me in situations in practice where I’m getting going again, but I feel very comfortable because of the group I’m around.”
As far as the offensive scheme, Kubiak is likely to stick with the things that have worked since he first became an assistant in the 90s with the Denver Broncos: Play-actions, bootlegs, setting up the pass with the run, taking shots down field. But in the NFL if you are standing still you are falling behind. Kubiak will have the challenge of building on an offense that was unique in its personnel usage and heavy play-action game in 2019.
“The good news is all the verbiage and stuff’s not [going to change], so it’s going to be easy for us to go back to work here,” Kubiak said. “I think we can grow from that standpoint rather quickly. Last year, we started from scratch with verbiage and all those things, starting over. Every year is different. You have to find a way to get better. How do we get better? We’ve got to find some new things to do, some new ways to go out there to try to move the football. We all start in the same place this year rather quickly. I think that’s going to be a good thing moving forward.”
Zimmer and Kubiak both said that the current system is a strong fit for quarterback Kirk Cousins’s skill set. He ranked in the top-five in play-action and deep ball passer rating last year, per PFF.
In ’19 the Vikings’ offense started with success on the ground. During Kubiak’s entire tenure as an OC or head coach, his offenses have ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards 14 times in 24 years. As OC of the Baltimore Ravens in ’14 finished eighth in total yards and seventh in yards per attempt. Last year behind Dalvin Cook’s breakout year the Vikings were sixth in yards and 11th in YPA.
Long story short: Don’t expect less rushing.
“I think you love to be balanced,” Kubiak said. “Each given day in this league, you don’t know how you’re going to win. Sometimes you show up and you can run the ball a lot an find a way to get out with the W. Some weeks you get behind and you have to throw the ball. I think you have to build to do both, but I know one thing. You have to be physical to be successful in this business. [Mike Zimmer] wants to be physical, so we’ll start with that.”
On the defensive side, Patterson has known Zimmer since 1988 when they were both on the Weber State staff. They worked together again with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 2000s and the entire time during Zimmer’s era in Minnesota. He talked on Tuesday about the synergy they have as coaches.
“You’ve heard of good cop, bad cop, right? You know, I think it’s like that,” Patterson said. “There’s no gray with Mike Zimmer. There’s no gray. You know where you fit. He’s going to tell you, whether you want to hear it or not, he’s going to tell you the truth of what you’re doing good, what you’re doing bad and what you need to improve on. I’m more of the motherly type. I’m going to put my arm around you and teach you just like I did when I was a teacher. So I always use the analogy of if I was a math teacher and you were having problems with something, I wouldn’t stand by you and hit you in the back of the head and cuss you out. I’d pull up a chair and sit down and show you how to figure out the problem. That’s my philosophy as a coach.”
Patterson will continue as defensive line coach, where he’s played a major role in developing stars Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter.
“I think the toughest part is going to be more demand on my time,” Patterson said. “Before, I can spend a lot of time just really focusing in on the other team’s offensive line. What they were doing in the run game, how are they trying to protect this, how can I get Danielle (Hunter) and Everson (Griffen) a mismatch? Those kind of things. Now it becomes more of an overview of the whole defense. So I would just say me being able to manage my time correctly is going to be the big thing.”
The exact roles for Patterson and Adam Zimmer will work themselves out. Mike Zimmer did not say whether he planned on calling plays for the defense, rather that they have a plan and will adapt as they go along.
“There will be aspects of the game plan and the other game that we both will focus on, and then come together and put it all together,” Patterson said. “That’s what we’ve been doing so far the last couple of weeks as we go through all the cutups and try to find the areas that we can improve.”
Adam Zimmer has been an NFL assistant since 2006 with the New Orleans Saints and has worked under his dad since they were together in Cincinnati in 2013.
“I think it’s a collaborative effort,” Adam said. “We’re going to be in there, Dre and I are going to make this transition as smooth as possible. We’ll work together on the game plans, I know coach [Zimmer] will be involved a lot in them. I think that the more we can collaborate and work together, the better it’s going to be, because we’ve all been through a lot of games in this league.”