The Vikings' offseason program, which ended Thursday when coach Mike Zimmer canceled the spring's final practice as a reward to players, served as a trial run for young players and coaches alike, including first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak.
Throughout five practices open to reporters this spring, Zimmer varied the situations in which Kubiak called plays — something the 34-year-old coordinator hasn't done outside of preseason games. Goal-line, two-minute, and third-down play calls were repeatedly set up, with more to come in training camp later this summer.
"I really appreciate that," Kubiak said Thursday. "It puts you on the spot – make a call and let's go with it. [Zimmer] is giving me some valuable repetition that I've needed."
As the team's quarterbacks coach for the past two seasons under his father, Gary, who retired this offseason, and Kevin Stefanski, now the second-year Browns head coach, Kubiak helped install the Vikings' red-zone and two-minute game plans for Sundays.
This spring, he finally got a chance to call plays for those situations on the field. Zimmer said he put a similar emphasis on his other young coordinators — his son, Adam Zimmer, a co-defensive coordinator, and first-year special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken.
"I am trying to give Klint as many opportunities to get a feel for how things are going to run and how he calls a game, and different situations," Zimmer said. "For all the new or young coordinators, I think it's important that they get a chance to kind of practice their game-like situations, certain calls and understanding the game, whether it's we're winning or losing or two-minute."
Kubiak was promoted this offseason to maintain the Vikings' offensive philosophy first established when Gary Kubiak was hired by Zimmer as a top advisor in 2019. But after working on the same team as his father for the past five years, from Denver to Minnesota, the young Kubiak is embarking on his own with his father enjoying retirement.
"[Gary] has been keeping himself really busy in Texas," Kubiak said. "We talk all the time, and he certainly cares about our players and our coaching staff. He's really invested in what we're doing. I'm keeping him up on those things, but he has done an excellent job of staying away, which I am very shocked at."
'As good as we can get'
How much did Vikings players really get out of 12 non-padded practices this spring? That's a question quarterback Kirk Cousins said he's pondered about his own game, regarding his timing in the pocket and with receivers while throwing in a red, non-contact jersey.
"We're not getting a full-speed pass rush right now, so you get a little bit of a false sense of security," he said. "There is a little bit of, 'Let's see the real thing come Sunday in the fall.' It can be a little difficult to know what it's going to be like. At the same time, you try to get the most out of practice and quite frankly, this is as good as we can get. This is so much better than a walk-through, so much better than a virtual meeting."
Dollars and sense
The Vikings added two void years into defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson's $3.6 million contract for salary cap purposes, according to sources with access to NFLPA data. Richardson, the 30-year-old former Pro Bowler, carries a cap hit of about $2.3 million this season as the team spread his $1.925 million signing bonus over three years – pushing nearly $1.3 million of cap charges into the future.
Richardson will become a free agent after this season, when his deal automatically voids, leaving a $1.3 million cap charge that accelerates onto the team's 2022 books.
Star Tribune staff writer Ben Goessling contributed to this report