Vikings Are No Strangers to Picking Up New Offenses

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA Today Sports)

When Kirk Cousins left Minnesota Vikings mini-camp, his head was still spinning as he tried to acclimate to John DeFilippo’s new offense.

“It’s a bit like drinking through a fire hose right now,” he said at the time.

Not unlike a student taking summer school classes, Cousins set aside some quality time with his iPad to digest some of DeFilippo’s concepts during the pre-training camp break. He said he planned to bug DeFilippo or quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski if he had questions.

Fast forward to early August and the quarterback still admits there is room to learn. The Vikings seasoned defense has outplayed its new-look offense in most of the 11-on-11 work, particularly in situational drills.

But Cousins’ comfort level is growing with the season still over a month away.

“I’m not thinking as much as I’m able to just react and play,” he said. “The terminology is starting to become my first language as opposed to my second language.”

The former Washington Redskins quarterback isn’t the only one going through the crash course. He, along with rest of the offense, is learning DeFilippo’s scheme. For those who’ve been around since 2016, it’s their third offensive coordinator in three seasons.

When Pat Shurmur replaced Norv Turner, he streamlined a lot of the offensive terminology. DeFilippo, though, has taken things in a different direction, but according to wide receiver Adam Thielen, change keeps things exciting.

“Completely opposite. It is a completely different system,” said Thielen. “As an athlete, that is what keeps things fresh. You love that. You love learning new playbooks. You love learning new routes, new concepts and trying to master them.”

Players describe learning new offenses like learning new languages — once you’ve learned a second, it’s easier to learn a third and a fourth.

DeFilippo didn’t wipe the entire slate clean. Certain plays that Shurmur ran that weren’t part of DeFilippo’s playbook stayed put with the same verbiage. If the former Eagles quarterbacks coach brought in his own version of a Shurmur play, the personnel adjusted to his terminology.

“It’s all just tagged with different verbiage,” said tight end David Morgan, “different plays are called this or called that and people just call them different words. So really, conceptually, you know what to expect, and it’s just tagging different words to each of those plays and different things like that.

“If it’s a route concept of two separate words,” Morgan continued, discussing how he memorizes new concepts, “it’s kind of like that tag is where it’s combined together to give you a little word association.”

Players describe learning new offenses like learning new languages — once you’ve learned a second, it’s easier to learn a third and a fourth.

Stefon Diggs got roughly a year and a half with both Turner and Shurmur before learning DeFilippo’s scheme. He, like his teammate Thielen, enjoys the adjustment process. Cousins told reporters earlier in training camp that Diggs was among the most engaged players during installation meetings, readily taking notes and asking questions.

“I like adding to certain parts of my game,” said Diggs. “A coach wants something done a little differently, I like to do it his way. Having the ability to adjust, that’s what makes players great. If you can adjust and adapt to your new coach and learn how he wants things done and do them.

“You have a subject in class that you’ve been studying for awhile and you’re starting to get it. You’re starting to find the small nuances that you wanted done, the small tweaks here and there.”

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA Today Sports)

Trevor Siemian has also learned three different offenses in his short NFL career. He spent two years under Rick Dennison’s system in Denver, then one year with Mike McCoy before joining Minnesota in March. He went 13-11 as a starter with the Broncos.

“Definitely some West Coast elements to Flip’s scheme, and I was in that for two years in Denver, so there’s some carryover there,” he told Zone Coverage. “But run game, getting a feel for that and also getting a feel for personnel — with different guys the concept might be the same on paper but different guys run routes in different ways, and that takes some getting used to.”

Diggs describes the meeting rooms as “open conversations” with plenty of idea-sharing and communication, starting at the top with DeFilippo.

His ability to relate to his two established receivers and their new quarterback may help ease the traditional growing pains of incorporating a new system.

“I was pleasantly surprised with the rapport,” said Cousins. “There was a fair amount of carryover from what I’ve done in the past, so that was a good first step. Whenever I did suggest something he’s just been a great listener, he’s been a great communicator, and I love his passion for the game.”

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