Bill Musgrave (Kevin Brown/Viking Update)
Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is taking input from players and customizing the playcalling to their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses.
Two days before each preseason game so far, Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has held a meeting with his quarterbacks to discuss the game plan for the upcoming opponent.
The Vikings’ playbook is divided into sections, most based on down and distance.
“He gives us a game plan of what we’re going to run and we basically get to choose our top two plays from each section: third-and-2 to 5, third-and-6 to 10, stuff like that,” rookie Christian Ponder said on Monday. “So we choose what we want to do and those are the things we’re going to run when we get in there. So it’s great that we have input.”
Musgrave doesn’t stop with the quarterbacks. He talks to the receivers about the routes they run, the running backs about the holes they like to hit, following through on a vow from early in training camp that he was going to tailor his new offense to the players rather than make the players adapt to a specific system.
“I appreciate the flexibility of coaches taking in what players are suggesting a lot of times,” receiver Bernard Berrian said. “Bill’s really great at that.”
From the moment coach Leslie Frazier hired him away from Atlanta to install a new offense in Minnesota, folks have been wondering what to call his system. Is it West Coast? Power running game? Run and shoot?
Well, yes, yes and yes.
Depending on who is at quarterback and the personnel groupings in the huddle, the Vikings have shown a little bit of everything with one game to go in the preseason.
When Donovan McNabb is in the game, the play calls tend to be passes from in the pocket, which is where the veteran is most comfortable operating.
When youngsters Joe Webb and Ponder are in the game, there are more designed rollouts to get them out of the hustle and bustle of the pocket and allow them to use their legs more. Webb had a 36-yard run and a 10-yard scramble for a TD against the Cowboys on Saturday night, and Ponder never hesitated to get outside to elude the rush.
“We like to tailor-make or customize our system to fit our players,” Musgrave said earlier in training camp. “It’s not a system where we’re going to sit here and say, ‘Donovan didn’t fit or another player didn’t fit.’
“We’re going to customize our system to really play to their strengths. I think you do that not only with a veteran guy, but also with a young guy. Whether it be Donovan or Christian, we want to identify their traits that can help us win and play to their strengths.”
It’s a stark contrast to what many of the players here are used to seeing from their coach. Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell were pretty firm in requiring players to adhere to the West Coast system Childress brought with him from Philadelphia.
And McNabb clashed with Mike and Kyle Shanahan in Washington last season over the way he was being used.
It’s been a different atmosphere in Minnesota this August, even as the Vikings are scrambling to learn a whole new system before the regular season opens in San Diego on Sept. 11. With no offseason to study the playbook or run through the scheme in minicamps, Musgrave really hasn’t had a choice but to be flexible and do his best to cater to what the players feel most comfortable running.
The results were mixed in the first two games, with no touchdowns scored by the No. 1 offense. But the first unit looked sharp against the Cowboys, moving the ball on the ground and through the air.
“He’s a guy who has obviously played the game and is used to being in a tough situation,” McNabb said. “He had quarterbacks who have been veterans and he has had quarterbacks who have been rookies stepping in. Being able to jell with them and build a relationship early I think is important, because you need to grow together and get a feel for him.”
The starters will play sparingly, if at all, in the preseason finale Thursday night. Ponder will start and Webb will likely play the entire second half as the coaches look to get a read on who should serve as the primary backup to McNabb.
Then Musgrave and the Vikings will have 10 days to focus in on game-planning for the Chargers.
“He understands the strengths of a lot of players and he wants to feed into that,” McNabb said. “You know when you have Adrian Peterson, you have Toby Gerhart, you have Lorenzo Booker, different (running plays) really reflect on the different type of athlete that they really are. He gets Percy Harvin into great positions, getting Kyle Rudolph into position. Using that to the best of our ability.”