The opening days of the Scouting Combine each year give Coaches and General Managers the opportunity to address the media about various topics, including how the team is going to move forward during the offseason. The Minnesota Vikings are no different, and on Wednesday it was General Manager Rick Spielman’s turn to take the podium and field some questions.
Each press conference at the Combine runs about fifteen minutes, so there are only so many questions that can be asked. We can parse different parts of this over the course of the next couple of days, but I wanted to make sure that everyone has the whole transcript available for their reading pleasure.
(Hat tip to Courtney Cronin of ESPN for transcribing the press conference.)
“Thank you. Just to get started, I feel that we’ve had a very productive offseason to date. I think Coach Zimmer has done an outstanding job putting together a staff, especially on the offensive side where we had some changes, to promote Kevin Stefanski to offensive coordinator, to bring in the experience of Gary Kubiak, Rick Dennison and the rest of the new coaches that came in, to hire Moof (Marwan Maalouf) the new special teams coach. We’re very excited about the direction of this staff. Also this is the time of year everybody’s down here to improve their football team. And I know from a general manager’s standpoint, this is the most exciting time of the year to get things that you need to get done to help improve your roster and that’s with free agency coming up, with the draft coming up.
Our ownership group, the Wilf family, has never said no to letting us go out and get the best available talent possible for this roster, and as we went through our meetings over the last month, not only with our scouts, with our coaches, with our ownership, we’ll try to be as aggressive as we can to continue to improve this roster. I know last season was a disappointing season, but I know how we’ve started so far and the direction we’re headed. Very excited about getting back on track for next season.”
With the new offensive hires and run game coordinator (Rick Dennison), are you sticking with the same zone-blocking scheme?
“I think they’re doing that right now. I know Coach Zim’s been sitting in every offensive meeting, as many he can. I know Kevin Stefanski is in charge of that room but to have that experience, I think it goes hand-in-hand when you’re putting a scheme together – look at the current personnel that you do have. Do those players fit in the scheme that you’re going to run? And as we start making additions to this roster, what physical traits or what are you going to require that player to do to be effective in this scheme. I think what gets lost in the shuffle a little bit is a player – let’s take offensive line, for example – a player may be very functional in a gap scheme where he’s going straight ahead and moving people forward but if we’re evolving to an outside zone scheme or different, well that’s going to be a different type of skill set or physical trait we’re looking at on the offensive line. But I think it goes hand-in-hand, us understanding the scheme, what’s required of the players, but also I think the coaches do a great job if we’re not able to fill everything with the current players that we do have on the roster – how can we adjust the scheme to hopefully put them in the best situation to have success?”
How have your processes changed to help players both preemptively and after incidents of mental health?
“I think it’s something that’s going to come to the forefront, especially as an NFL. I know that we specifically dealt with a situation. I felt we had everything in place to help our specific player (Everson Griffen) get through it and he was able to come back on the field and play for us. But I think what general managers maybe had to deal with 10 years ago is a lot different than what we have to deal with today. And it’s not only mental health. It’s social justice, it’s social media. So there are a lot of things, and I think the more that we’re able to educate ourselves, the better we’ll be able to handle, just in general, situations that do pop up that maybe we didn’t have to deal with 10 years ago.”
How do you educate yourself and your staff about some of those problems?
“Well we’ve talked about it. We’ve talked about it on a couple of the committees that I’m on and I know it’s in the forefront of the NFL and I don’t want to speak for Troy Vincent, but coming up with different ways and ideas when we do get together as a league, are there things that can help educate us? But I think it’s also an onus on the team to reach out and to make sure that you’re educated on those specific areas as well and go out and talk to the experts. Best way I learned is when you experience things or when you go through something, what did you do good, what did you do bad, how can you improve and talk to the people who are experts in those specific areas on do we have everything in place or could we even improve more from what we currently have?
When you sit back, you’re not only evaluating your roster and you’re team, but you’re also evaluating everything else on the football operations side. I was in a meeting with our ownership this offseason and we spent a 10 hour day, not only going through the stuff that happens on the field, but also are we prepared and are we educated enough and do we have the right people and all the right experts in place from our organization to handle situations that you may not anticipate but do come up. I feel there’s no question our ownership is going to give us all the resources necessary to make sure that we have those pieces in place.”
Having gone through the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes last year, what did you learn about recruiting and attracting free agents?
“I didn’t learn anything until we were actually able to talk to him after the gun -- or I shouldn’t say the gun – the start of free agency began. The one thing I know for us, which was a huge advantage for us, was I do think we have an excellent coaching staff, we have some good players on our football team and we’re a very good football team, but also when they walked into that building the ownership built for us – our new practice facility, TCO Performance Center, U.S. Bank Stadium, to go play in that facility – I think that was a huge advantage for us once we got the players into the building, even when we brought Sheldon Richardson through. But it’s always going to come down to: do you have a good football team, do they believe in the coaches you have, but having all that is a huge benefit.”
When you evaluate a young QB, what tells you if he will have it or not?
“I think as this sports science evolves, I think as we get more and more sophisticated in the psychological aspect of everything, because quarterbacks are maybe different than any other positions. There could be guys that physically can throw the ball better than anyone in this draft, could run faster than anyone in this draft, but I don’t know if those are the critical factors that they are. But you see a lot of quarterbacks that may not have been physically at the top of the list when they came out of here, but because of what’s in their mind, what’s in their heart, how they approach it makes a huge difference at that position and I think that’s what everybody is trying to put an answer on and those are a lot of times subjective things you’re trying to get to in an objective decision.”
What did you like about Gary Kubiak?
“I think the one thing is not only has he been a head coach and won Super Bowls, but the scheme he comes from. Coming from Kubiak, Shanahan, that type of scheme, when he decided to get back into coaching, we were very aggressive to jump on that opportunity. I think he had maybe other options out there. I don’t want to speak for him, but I think the way he feels with the quarterback we have in place and the quarterback playing in the scheme that we’re probably going to evolve to to highlight what Kirk does best was one of the attractions.
Also, I know in his career right now, and he’s mentioned this, was to mentor a young coach like a Kevin Stefanski, who I think is going to be an all-star in this league. To take experience. What’s unique about Kevin is that he has no ego. When we brought up the fact that a guy of Gary Kubiak’s stature could come into our building, he was the one that was the biggest flag waver for Gary Kubiak. He wants that. That’s what I think makes our building a little unique. No one really has an ego. Whatever resources we can use, whatever areas of expertise we have all these people in, let’s all do it together because ultimately we want to win. When you can get a group of people together and a culture – and that start with Coach Zimmer, the culture that we have – that gives you the best chance to win, in my opinion.”
How is Kubiak’s health?
“I don’t think Coach Kubiak would have jumped back in it if he felt he [wasn’t] healthy, especially with the tragedy that we had to deal with last year [the death of OL coach Tony Sparano]. And this comes from our ownership. Because we’re fortunate to be in the part of the country we’re in, we have all of our coaches go to a specific hospital to make sure that they get a thorough physical. That’s just another show of what our ownership is going to do to make sure we’re one of the best organizations in the NFL.”
Evaluating receiver prospects here?
“You have to look at the physical ability, but a lot of times these guys are coming in having played basketball on grass. They never get in a huddle. All they’re going to do – which I’m trying to tell my son [J.D.] right now down at Nebraska, ‘You can’t just go out there and run around and just beat a guy because you’re just physically gifted’ – technically, who is going to be covering you every week at this level, you’re going to have to learn the technique. These guys … you watch an NFL receiver and you see the distance between the DB and him at times and how open they are, you’re not going to be that open at this level. I think they have to adjust, just like a quarterback does with how tight the windows are, the technical part, because you may not have got jammed. I looked at a lot of receivers that have never really had to sit there and face a top corner that’s going to jam you off the line of scrimmage. That’s all new. I think that’s part of the process that he has to have the physical ability, but they also have to learn the technical part of the game, which is a big jump for some.”
Easier for receivers now with college concepts getting into the NFL?
“I think you’re starting to see some of that evolve a little bit with what some of the offenses are doing right now. But I know there’s a lot of smart coaches on defense. I remember when I first started back in the ’80s when the run-and-shoot was in vogue with the Houston Cougars running it. Then all the sudden defenses figured out how to stop that real quick. I think it’s always evolving. But there are some things that you’re starting to see now trickling into our game a little bit.”
What do the Vikings need to do to help Kirk Cousins take his game up a level?
“Kirk has a position, and the contract is going to get a lot of blame, but the blame has to be spread throughout. Our season wasn’t good enough for our standards last year, but statistically if you look at what Kirk did, he threw for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, but we didn’t win enough games. So I think going back to an offense that he is very familiar with and working under that Shanahan/Kubiak tree, and really him playing better but everybody has to play better. We all have to do better at our jobs. But him highlighting what he does well, but that’s any player – do the things that they do well and that’s what I talked about earlier is you have your schemes, but adjust some of the things in your schemes so you put your players in the best position to have enough success.”