The Vikings offensive philosophy must start with practical concerns. It should be based around the talents of the players that the Vikings have. The best talent should be on the field for as long as possible, and given the most opportunities to make plays in the best possible situations. The schemes should complement the talent. Some of the top Vikings players on offense will include Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Steve Hutchinson. Sidney Rice might be added to the list as well. Leslie Frazier's vision is that the Vikings' have a mission of running the ball, and stopping opposing teams from running when they have the ball. This fits with the talent we have. Adrian Peterson's abilities are well-known, and Percy Harvin is also capable of running the ball well out of the backfield.
Another item of note is that the Vikings will become a cold-weather team again.
The Vikings should tailor their offense to the outdoors. An important factor is the playing condition of the home field. Let's be optimistic and realistic. Let's say the Vikings and the State of Minnesota partner up and build a new stadium, starting this offseason. That would mean the Vikings have already played their last game in the Metrodome. For the next two years, the Vikings would play at the open-air TCF Bank stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. Subsequently, the Vikings would either have an open-air stadium, or a retractable stadium with a roof kept open any time the kickoff temperature is 40 degrees or higher. There is only one team in the division (the Lions) with a permanent roofed stadium. The Vikings will become a cold-weather team again. With modern stadiums, wind won't be as big of a factor as it used to, though. The main effect the stadium change will have is that the deep ball won't be there as much as it was in the Dome days. The passing attack will still work outdoors in the cold, or on grass, because defenses are troubled by a lack of sure footing, and the wind will not howl like it did in the past. The days of Culpepper throwing bombs to Moss, or Frerrotte throwing bombs to Berrian, and Favre throwing bombs to Rice, however, are now completely over. There will be bombs thrown, but not as often, because they will be harder to complete. The cold-weather outdoors will require a quarterback with a strong arm and lot of accuracy.
The Vikings' current talent suggests basing the offense on a spread attack. Peterson is at his best as a single running back. That was true for him in his college days, and it remains true now. Harvin is at his best as a receiver in the slot. Putting three receivers on the field can make both happen. This would be a perfect fit for Peterson and Harvin. Our base offense could become a 1 RB, 3 WR set with Peterson and Harvin both on the field at the same time. Sometimes Peterson could line up as a wide out, with Harvin lining up in the backfield.
Incidentally, a 3 WR, 1 RB base set is what Josh McDaniels prefers as well. He has interviewed with Leslie Frazier for the position of offensive coordinator. With McDaniels's offenses in the past, unfortunately, there has not been a lot of passion for the running game. McDaniels may be a passing guru, but he is not a running guru. The Vikings' best offensive weapon is Adrian Peterson. The Vikings must give Peterson the best opportunities they can. How can McDaniels do that when he hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher under his coaching? It is not clear to this Vikings fan right now.
The other running backs have a mix of talent. Booker seems like he could evolve into the #2 running back, and get a lot of touches on third down. Albert Young has become good at pass protection. On the other hand, Gerhart is used to playing behind a fullback. It's not known how good he would be as a single back.
The tight end position could benefit from a spread attack. Visanthe Shiancoe is great when opposing defenses are distracted by other threats. When he became the primary threat, as he did for much of this past season, he can be covered and shut down. An effective spread attack, with defenses focused on Peterson and the wide receivers, would put Shiancoe in position to make plays. The tight end position is a critical part of the offense, because the tight end can often convert third downs into first downs and convert red zone possessions into touchdowns. Improving the opportunities for the tight end would be big for the offense.
The blocking scheme should change. Peterson has not reached his potential in the zone-blocking scheme. The offensive linemen we have, other than Sullivan and Cooper, are big men who would fit a man-blocking scheme better. Note that Cook can also play center, and he is a big man. Perhaps a man-blocking scheme allow him to thrive at center. With the Vikings drafting in roughly the middle of the NFL pack, there should be a number of big men available who could take over at center. The success of an offense is always based on its offensive line, and a new scheme would help if it better fits the talents and abilities of the Vikings' personnel.
The spread attack as outlined here, however, rests on a few "skill" position players who the Vikings don't seem to have presently. First, it depends on a quarterback who reliably goes through his progressions, and throws accurately. Webb is not that guy today, although maybe he can learn. Bomar is an unknown. Ramsey is not signed.
The spread attack concept also rests on two wide receivers to go along with Harvin. Rice has been great when he hasn't been injured. If Rice is re-signed, and can remain healthy, he could almost be a franchise wide receiver for the Vikings. He is the ideal possession receiver because he has the added ability of making big plays. It would be pretty difficult to not sign him considering how hard it would be to find someone else who can be that good. On the other hand, considering that he is injured a lot the Vikings probably can't pay him like other players. Berrian has had moments of greatness usually based on his foot-speed.
The Vikings are lucky to have Leslie Frazier. Right now, though, Frazier has the biggest decisions of his Vikings' coaching career to make, and they aren't easy. These big questions, as they concern the offense, are as follows.
What position should Joe Webb play next year, and into the future? This Vikings fan thinks Webb should remain at quarterback. Regardless of whether he evolves into a franchise quarterback, or a just solid backup quarterback, the combination of his physical toolkit, mental toolkit, and emotional toolkit is too rare to ignore, and too important to take for granted. Joe Webb can be and should be a quarterback.
In addition to Webb and Bomar, who should the Vikings add at quarterback? The Browns did not have success bringing in Jake Delhomme, and I don't see how bringing in a Kyle Orton, Donovan McNabb, or other veteran will have a positive impact on the team. The Vikings haven't drafted a quarterback in the first round since Daunte Culpepper in 1999. The last quarterback the Vikings drafted high was Tarvaris Jackson in 2006. I believe Jackson has seen his last days in a Vikings uniform. Regardless of other matters, the fact is he collided with our star running back and gave him a thigh bruise during a simple hand-off. It doesn't seem possible that a quarterback who could create such an accident as that could ever become a reliable signal-caller. Based on NFL history, the Vikings should be drafting one quarterback high every five years. It's time this year to take a quarterback early in the 2011 draft. While three young quarterbacks would pose questions by various commentators, so would anything else. It would be the best way forward. The coaching staff can mold the three young players the right way.
Should Sidney Rice be re-signed? The answer is "yes, of course, but at what price?" Wide receivers can be highly overpaid, as we have seen with T.J. Houshmanzadeh and many others. While Rice has great character and ability, and has a great work ethic, he has been injury-prone in three of his four years in the NFL. In four years, he has 146 receptions, 2,189 yards, and 18 touchdowns. Those are solid numbers, but most of that came in 2009 when Brett Favre had his career-best year. In terms of injuries in the NFL, past is often prolouge. The Vikings should not commit anything like $10 million per year to Rice, who could end up earning most of that from the medical wing. On the other hand, the Vikings would do well to re-sign Rice at a number that is based on what he is likely to contribute. The contract could be heavily loaded with incentives for games started, for example.
Should Bryant McKinnie be retained? The answer is yes. McKinnie is working to get back into shape this offseason. A new man-blocking scheme could make him a better player. That said, it was McKinnie who missed the block on the player who ended Brett Favre's career. The Vikings need to plan for the future. It is time to draft an offensive tackle who can at least provide an able back up to McKinnie and Loadholt.
What offensive system should the Vikings run, and who should be the offensive coordinator? Subsequent to that, who should the assistant coaches be? I've outlined my ideas for the base offense here. This spread attack should feature Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin as dangerous weapons on the ground and through the air. McDaniels would seem to fit this basic concept, except there is that nagging suspicion that he might let the talents of Adrian Peterson languish.
Change is in the air, and Leslie Frazier has an opportunity to make changes that need to be made while keeping the Vikings true to the principles that have served them well. I'm looking forward to a cold-weather Vikings team that takes the best of previous years, and adds new ideas, personnel, and Leslie Frazier's overarching strategic vision.