EAGAN, Minn. — When linebacker Anthony Barr spoke this week about the Vikings being “well equipped” to win the Super Bowl, he didn’t initially bring up the defense.
Yes, Minnesota ranked fourth in the NFL last season in total defense while the offense was just 20th. But Barr talked about how the team’s new offensive system has been “challenging” to face in practice and he’s “excited to see what they can do.”
The Vikings concluded spring drills Thursday, June 13, with the final practice of a three-day mandatory minicamp. Running back Dalvin Cook was pleased with the groundwork laid under offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and assistant head coach/offensive adviser Gary Kubiak.
“The system is set up for us to be great, and we’ve got to go be great,” Cook said. “The system is set up for us. We’ve got to go take care of business. We’re going to see in a couple of months.”
The Vikings begin training camp in late July, and the regular season begins on Sept. 8.
For now, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the defense remains ahead of the offense. That isn’t a surprise considering Zimmer’s defense has been ranked in the top four in the NFL for three straight seasons, including No. 1 in 2017. But the offense is closing the gap.
“We’ve had a good spring,” said Kubiak, who won Super Bowl 50 as Denver’s head coach in February 2016 and joined the Vikings staff in January. “We’ve got a long way to go. But I think our work has been really good. We’ve taken some steps forward as a group in all areas.”
Zimmer has talked repeatedly about the Vikings needing to run more effectively. That starts with Cook. “I think Cook has had a really, really good spring,” Zimmer said. “Gary and I were talking about him (Thursday) morning. He looks really, really good.”
Cook could be primed for a breakout season after two injury-riddled years. He suffered a season-ending knee injury as a rookie in the fourth game of 2017 and missed five games last year with a hamstring injury, although he still led the team with 615 yards rushing.
“I’m healthy,” he said. “I was able to be me (during the spring), fly around and be Dalvin. That’s why it went smooth. Now, I’m back having fun, loving the game.”
Under Stefanski and Kubiak, the Vikings are looking for the running game to set up more play-action passes for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Stefanski was the interim coordinator for the final three games last season before having that tag removed in January.
While there were many changes on offense, Zimmer switched up the defense, too. He tinkered with a unit that mostly played well but started last season slowly and then closed it in disappointment, losing the finale against Chicago. The Vikings lost 24-10 and failed to make the playoffs with a 8-7-1 record.
“We had a good spring,” Zimmer said. “We’ve still got a long ways to go from to where we need to be, but I thought the new things we looked at on defense and the installation on offense and the way we paid emphasis on special teams was good.”
Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who has made four straight Pro Bowls, said the defense made strides during organized team activities and minicamp.
“It’s always good to learn some more things about the game and what we did last year and what we didn’t do last year and what we need to focus on moving forward,” he Smith said. “Learn more about situational football, situations that determine the outcomes of game, whether it’s two-minute-type stuff, red zone.”
Zimmer was happy enough with everything that he ended Thursday’s practice about 10 minutes early. He then addressed the players, pointing out what he wants them to do before the start of training camp.
Smith said Zimmer stressed being in shape and “not showing up to training camp and playing catchup.” Defensive end Stephen Weatherly said the overall message was to stay focused.
“At the end of the day, he said, ‘Don’t drift too far away from football,’ ” Weatherly said. “A lot of people have (training) gurus, a lot of people have people they go and work with, but at the end of the day, (Zimmer said), ‘Do the things you do, which is football.’ “