Vikings: Lots to learn, little time to do it

MINNEAPOLIS -- In her piece published on Saturday, ESPN's Ashley Fox argued that the NFL's offseason rules, which were enacted to guard players' time and give them some semblance of an offseason to recover from the rigors of the previous year, have gone too far. Teams get much less time to teach players under the current collective bargaining agreement than they did before 2011. Things like offseason quarterback schools are all but dead, and coaches aren't allowed to talk football with their players until April. And now that the draft was pushed into the first week of May, there's even less time to get rookies up to speed before training camp.

The pendulum swung that way with good intentions, but Fox raises an interesting point, particularly for a team such as the Vikings. Coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner came in with plans to change the Vikings' offensive and defensive systems, but at the start of the Vikings' organized team activities last week, it was obvious players are still trying to digest everything. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has won praise from Zimmer for his ability to pick up the scheme quickly, but he was missing from two OTAs, and the Vikings won't get three of their first five picks -- UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton and Stanford guard David Yankey -- back in their building until minicamp, since all three players attend schools on the quarters system.

"It's a tremendous, tremendous value," Zimmer said of the Vikings' time at OTAs. "The things that we get a chance to work on and accomplish, being able to understand where we are supposed to be in zone coverage, how the receivers are supposed to run the routes, the timing of everything, understanding how to play blocks, how to combination blocks on offense, the calls that we make, I mean there are so many things that are so valuable. We’re still in the early stages of what we are learning but I do feel like as a team we’re starting to work together a little bit better."

While Zimmer has said the Vikings have enough time to get everything done, I'm sure he wouldn't refuse more time to work with players, especially younger ones. The CBA's salary structure has led teams toward younger rosters, which means coaches have to do more teaching than they would with a veteran roster, and young players have to absorb playbooks in less time than their predecessors had. The NFLPA fought hard for limits to offseason programs in the 2011 CBA, and union chief DeMaurice Smith told Fox that the current rules catered to the "lowest common denominator," being designed to curb the powers of the most obsessive coaches imaginable.

The current CBA doesn't expire until 2020, so the current system will stand for years. It's worth pointing out, though, just how much teams in situations like the Vikings' current setup have to learn in a shrinking offseason window.

"I probably haven't studied this much football in six or seven years," said linebacker Chad Greenway, who is adapting to a new scheme after playing his entire career in the Vikings' old Cover 2 defense. "It's been a long time. I'm always carrying that iPad and notebook around, trying to learn and ask as many questions as possible. There's a lot of things to learn, a lot of things these coaches know that come up in this scheme that hadn't come up before. They've done a good job presenting it to us, and we're trying to learn and make it right."