MINNEAPOLIS -- When Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer identifies a problem on his football team, he is rarely shy or subtle about identifying it publicly and addressing it promptly.
The chief problem for the 2016 Vikings was a running game that ranked 32nd in the league and, in Zimmer's view, made the Vikings "almost totally 100 percent one-dimensional" and placed an additional burden on quarterback Sam Bradford. The Vikings responded by signing two tackles (Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers) whom Zimmer said are better run-blockers than they are pass-protectors and replacing Adrian Peterson with Latavius Murray in the backfield.
Then, for the first time in the Vikings' four drafts since Zimmer became the head coach, they used their first two picks on offensive players. They traded up from No. 48 to 41 to select Florida State running back Dalvin Cook after he slipped out of the first round, and they jumped up again from No. 79 to No. 70 to take Ohio State center Pat Elflein, who piqued general manager Rick Spielman's interest because of an edge that Spielman coaxed out of the Rimington Award winner at the combine.
"He was interviewed at the combine; I kind of jab the kids a little bit, and he's the only one that really bit back at me a little bit," Spielman said. "I could see his face getting a little flushed, like, 'OK, let's go.'"
The Vikings followed their two moves up with two more trades, acquiring a pair of fourth-rounders and two more seventh-rounders by moving back twice. They'll have seven picks Saturday with which to address other needs, starting with the second choice in the fourth round. But whatever they do with their remaining choices Saturday, it was clear they wanted to begin their portion of the draft by doing more work on their biggest deficiency in 2016.
"I know Coach Zim wants to run the ball," Spielman said. "To be honest with you, I didn't know Dalvin was going to fall that far. It was too good not to go up there and try to get him. He's just too special of a football player. I know one of the things we wanted to hone in on was getting an offensive lineman early. It's not really a deep, deep offensive line class. We wanted to make sure we got one of the guys we coveted.'
If the trademark of Zimmer's first three teams in Minnesota was a stifling defense that's improved through a sizable draft commitment (two first-, two second- and two third-rounders on that side of the ball), the Vikings' offense has felt somewhat lost at sea, with the Zimmer-Norv Turner partnership ending last year and injuries forcing the team to shuttle through three starting quarterbacks. Bradford threw for almost 4,000 yards last season, but as Zimmer said at the owners meetings last month, it happened in part because the Vikings had few other options.
They'll make enough schematic changes in the running game, hewing to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's West Coast offensive principles and asking their running backs to be more versatile, that this shouldn't be confused with a return to the Adrian Peterson-dominated offenses of the last decade.
But the Vikings still intend to make the ground game a central part of their offense -- at least to keep Bradford out of third-and-long and open up downfield throws off play-action -- and they entered the offseason intent on improving a remedial part of their offense. What they did in the draft Friday night showed they believed they still had more work to do in that facet of the game.