Running plays by the Minnesota Vikings last season were largely unproductive endeavors, with an average of 75.3 yards rushing per game that was the lowest in the NFL in four years.
The Vikings have attacked their obvious offseason priority with the kind of aggression they’d appreciate after the handoffs take place on the field this fall. Head coach Mike Zimmer was all for it, despite his mind for and expertise in defense.
“I don’t care how we do it,” Zimmer said. “I don’t really want it to be 65-63, but I just want to win games.”
After signing tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and running back Latavius Murray during free agency, while letting all-time leading rusher Adrian Peterson leave, the Vikings grabbed Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, Ohio State center Pat Elflein and Miami guard Danny Isidora in the draft.
“Being able to run the ball in the fourth quarter to win football games is important,” Zimmer said. “It allows your defense to play better. You can control the time of possession. You can control the flow of the game.”
Cook was lauded by his college coach, Jimbo Fisher, for his ability to read the field and set up blocks. He actually could help the offensive line, then, rather than simply benefiting from the work in front of him.
“I think that’s what a good running back is supposed to do,” Cook said, “and I think that’s what I did at Florida State.”
The Vikings had just seven runs last season that went 15-plus yards, only four by a running back, so they need to be better at controlling the line of scrimmage. Their attempt to do that has involved seeking blockers with a little bit of a snarl to them, and Elflein fit that bill. He has done his offseason training in the same Phoenix facility as fellow Ohio State alum Alex Boone, another player with a mean streak who’ll be next to him at left guard.
“He was a perfect fit for what we’re trying to get done,” general manager Rick Spielman said.
Here are some other takeaways from the weekend for the Vikings:
Cook’s past includes some trouble with the law , but the Vikings are confident after extensive conversations with him and people close to him that his behavior and perspective have matured. Spielman said he believes Cook answered his questions openly and sincerely and that he’ll justify that trust by doing “all the right things.”
The presence of fellow Miami natives Teddy Bridgewater and Xavier Rhodes ought to help ease Cook’s transition to Minnesota and the league.
“They represent the Vikings in the right way, and everybody knows that Xav and Teddy are good people,” Cook said. “It’s good to be around those guys, learn from those guys, and learn how to be a pro.”
The Vikings are unsettled at Sharrif Floyd’s defensive tackle spot because of a career-threatening knee injury that has lingered since last year. With their first of two fourth-round selections Saturday, the Vikings took defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, a former high school wrestler who’s primarily a run stopper but had eight sacks last season for Iowa. Floyd, who was a first-round pick in 2013, played in only one game last year.
“He’s still rehabbing and trying to get going,” Zimmer said. “I’m optimistic that he’ll be able to play, but I don’t really know.”
The Vikings were part of a league-high seven of the record number of trades that went down during the three-day draft, which not only allowed them to move up for Cook and Elflein but netted them three extra picks. They selected nine players Saturday, including four in the seventh round.
The Vikings took Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon with the 120th overall selection in the fourth round, one of only two times they used their original pick. The other was in the seventh round at No. 232, with Kansas State linebacker Elijah Lee. In the fifth round, they took South Florida wide receiver Rodney Adams before Isidora. Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges was their sixth-round pick. Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley, Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo and North Carolina State cornerback Jack Tocho were their other seventh-rounders.
Odenigbo, stressed out waiting to be drafted, was on a drive from campus to Chicago for dinner when the Vikings called. His choice on the menu? “What would a Viking get? A steak. That’s what I’m doing,” he said.