Freedom in WCO system?
In an interesting comment by head coach Brad Childress when asked about wide receiver Bobby Wade, his response offered some insight into the complexity of the West Coast Offense.
For receivers, there are firm boundaries that routes need to be run within. But there is also some freedom that enables receivers (and hopefully the quarterback, as well) to capitalize on opportunities within the coverages they see.
“He is still learning the things that he is able to do in this system because there is a lot of flexibility,” Childress said in comments about the development of Wade. “I mentioned it before – that line in the playbook has some adaptability to it, and he has got enough personality along that line in the playbook where he has some freedom. He knows the lines; he is learning some of the freedoms that are involved and how he is able to wiggle open and what the quarterback expects to see, what he absolutely can’t do and the quarterback doesn’t expect to see, so he is playing well, but he is kind of growing within the system here.”
Like Chester Taylor a year ago, Wade comes to the Vikings with modest previous success and production in the NFL. But Childress likes the core tools he brings to the mix.
“I think I mentioned before, he is really kind of like a Pied Piper because he has the wealth of experience and playing on another team and had some success,” Childress added. “Those young kids really followed him through our offseason. He is a tremendous worker, so he really brought something to them in terms of work ethic in the offseason, work ethic when you get on the football field, and then he has put his money where his mouth is in terms of catching the ball and making plays.”
Another newcomer, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, is also cramming to learn the nuances of the offense.
“[He is] learning new terminology and learning the flexibility he has at the tight end position,” Childress said. “When he is at the top of a crossing route, when does he have the ability to take it up and strike it back outside? When does he have to keep going and that's driven by what the quarterback expects to see and what's happening outside of him, so he is learning the foreign language.
“He's got the skills and ability, and it's just that we keep on adding that volume every day, for instance adding all those red zone specific plays today,” Childress continued. “He should get a bunch of those installations. We install this stuff for every preseason game. We go right back through it again for every game during the season. Obviously we press toward September 9th to have it all ready.”
The other element that Shiancoe brings to the tight end position that has been lacking the past few seasons is the ability to stretch the defense down the middle.
“I think he has got sneaky speed down the middle of the field,” Childress said. “He runs very well, he is able to drop some man-to-man coverage.”
The chemistry between quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and receivers like Wade and Shiancoe will probably be a work in process throughout the season, but the upside of the system with a quarterback who can thread the needle like Jackson, and a receiver with the quickness, maneuverability and run-after-the-catch ability of Wade could be huge dividends in the long run.
As we’ve suggested in this space recently, finding combinations of offensive linemen that offer position flexibility will go a long way toward who makes the opening-day roster. “When you are only able to have seven and probably tops eight linemen up on a 45-man game-day roster, guys got to have position flexibility,” Childress said. “They have to, and I would point to a game like Miami last year where we were down to our final five there. So guys have to be able to swing, and who is going to go in to play left tackle, who would play left guard, what happens if the center gets nicked. You have got to have guys that can do all those kind of things.”
The benefit of veteran Artis Hicks seeing action at left tackle develops more familiarity for him at that position should he ever be needed there in a game-time situation. “Yeah, you never like guys to miss when you are trying to play cohesively. But the upside of that is that in a pinch is Artis (Hicks) would jump over there (left tackle) and (Anthony) Herrera would go in.”
Hicks lacks the feet for long-term duty outside at tackle, but he does have some comfort with the position. “Yeah, he is a natural left hander so that is the thing that is great for him,” according to Childress. “It's like riding a bike. Now we know that the premium rushers are on that side of a right-handed quarterback. He had some rushes that were better than others but you know he has a natural punch to him, and as I mentioned to you before, I have seen him do it before against Jason Taylor on a Monday night with about two hours lead time, and hold him to no sacks. So he has a little bit of experience at that position.”
Wide receiver Chris Jones, who went to training camp with the Vikings the past two seasons, is having a strong camp with theSeattle Seahawks this summer. But his back is still against the wall as he is one of 11 players competing for five or six rosters spots.
Another former Vikings receiver, Ben Nelson, signed with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this week. Nelson, who played at St. Cloud State and spent time with the Vikings in 2003-04, was a standout in the Arena Football League this season. Nelson, who was named the Arena Football League's 2006 Rookie of the Year, played in 11 games in 2007 and recorded 101 receptions, 1,257 receiving yards and 25 TDs. During the postseason, Nelson helped the San Jose SaberCats earn their third Arena Bowl championship in the last six years by catching 19 passes for 201 yards and 8 TDs.