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Updated: May 28th, 2014 6:56pm
Zulgad: Unknown is a good thing when it comes to Vikings' schemes

Zulgad: Unknown is a good thing when it comes to Vikings' schemes

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

There are many cases where the unknown can be a disconcerting thing. In the Vikings' case, the unknown should be reason for optimism.

As the team goes through its first week of organized team activities, defensive coordinator-turned-head coach Mike Zimmer is getting another opportunity to work on installation of a defensive system that should be far different than the outdated Tampa-2 scheme that has been used by the Vikings since 2006.

Veteran coordinator Norv Turner is going about the same process on the other side of the football with an offense that has had many of its roots in the West Coast system the past eight years.

What will these new schemes look like?

That's where the intrigue about what's going on at Winter Park comes into play.

Because Zimmer is entering his first season as the Vikings' coach, the team was able to hold a minicamp before the draft. That was followed by a rookie minicamp just after this month's draft.

The first opportunity for many of us to get an idea of what the Vikings might be doing won't come until training camp opens this summer in Mankato. Zimmer, like any coach, will keep things extremely vanilla in the preseason before taking the training wheels off for the Sept. 7 opener in St. Louis.

Until then any discussion about how the Vikings will utilize their personnel will be nothing more than speculation based on assumptions.

The prime example of this came on the opening night of the NFL draft when the Vikings selected UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr ninth overall in the first round.

There was an outcry from some about why the Vikings would take Barr, who was referred to as a strong-side linebacker by many analysts. Some wondered what that meant for Chad Greenway, who has been listed as the Vikings' strong-side linebacker since the 2007 season.

There were a few problems with this line of thinking.

While Greenway played the strong-side in Leslie Frazier's version of the Tampa-2, he will be a weak-side linebacker in Zimmer's defense. Also, Barr's role under Zimmer will be far different than it would have been with the previous regime.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman would not have drafted Barr if Frazier was still around. Barr is going to be counted on to provide the type of pass-rushing presence the Vikings haven't asked of a linebacker on a consistent basis for a long time.

The Vikings' base defense is going to be a 4-3, but successful defenses in the NFL these days are hybrids that present different looks and formations in order to keep offenses off balance. That's why it's impossible to pass judgment on the Barr pick, or project his role, because we have no idea.

The same is true for Turner's offense, which uses what is referred to as a 3-digit system. Perhaps the most interesting thing here is Turner's plan for running back Adrian Peterson and the backfield as a whole.

There are three things we have become conditioned to believe when it comes to Peterson during his seven seasons in Minnesota. 1) He will be among the NFL's elite running backs. 2) He will be asked to play a role, but not a big one, in the passing attack. 3) He won't be used on third down on a consistent basis because of concerns about his abilities in pass protection.

The expectation for the first thing on the above list isn't going to change, but Nos. 2 and 3 could and should be different under Turner.

Whether it has been as a coach or coordinator, Turner always has incorporated his running backs into the passing game. He also said during a recent appearance on 1500 ESPN that there would be ways to keep Peterson on the field on third down without exposing any weaknesses he might have in protecting the quarterback.

"I have heard people say Adrian is not a good pass protector," Turner said. "He is an outstanding pass protector when it is the right kind of matchup. We are not looking to have him block defensive end or outside linebackers because those are bad matchups for any back."

So what will Turner do to keep Peterson on the field on third down and also make sure Matt Cassel remains upright? Fullback Jerome Felton is very capable in pass protection or a tight end could end up helping out.

Turner also will have another exciting player at his disposal in third-round running back Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon, who played college football at Georgia Southern, is extremely raw but also athletically gifted.

He was a triple-option quarterback and played some defensive back before moving to running back before his senior season. He's the type of player that Turner will find ways to get the ball into his hands, creating potential problems for defenses that already will be focused on slowing Peterson and making sure wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson doesn't get behind the secondary.

That's the same Patterson who for some reason wasn't utilized by previous offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave until it was far too late last season. Musgrave, of course, usually was beyond predictable when it came to his offensive scheme.

Turner won't be, and neither will Zimmer.

And that should provide Vikings fans with reasons to be optimistic.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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