Hired by the Minnesota Vikings as a first-time head coach at age 57, it took Mike Zimmer a long time to reach the top of the NFL coaching ladder.
Now entering his fourth season in Minnesota, Zimmer isn’t about to jeopardize his position by being complacent.
Already known for his great defensive prowess, Zimmer is endeavoring to make his presence felt more in the team’s offensive rooms in hopes of become more connected with the unit that struggled greatly at times last season.
“I want them to know I’ve got their back,” Zimmer said. “So I’m going to sit in there with them. I’m listening to them and communicating with them.”
The head coach has spent the previous three years transforming the Vikings defense into a top-10 unit league-wide. With his system in place and a great deal of continuity on that side of the ball between the players and coaching staff, Zimmer appears to see it fit to loosen his stranglehold ever so slightly on the defense.
Having developed a reputation as a perfectionist who will always err on the side of working too hard rather than not enough, it was surprising to hear Wednesday that Zimmer has even contemplated giving defensive coordinator George Edwards more play-calling duties, as he had during last season’s game against the Dallas Cowboys when Zimmer was recovering from eye surgery.
“If I did that, I think I’d be able to interject a lot,” said Zimmer.
To ignite the offensive renaissance, Zimmer has routinely met with the offensive line — arguably the biggest weakness of last year’s team — and has placed a greater emphasis on situational football to promote better execution late in games.
But as football usually mandates, everything comes down to the quarterback, and Zimmer has taken a special interest in forging a better relationship with Sam Bradford, who is going through his first full offseason with Minnesota.
“To have him in our meetings, to have him come up to talk to us on the field, whether it is about football, whether it is about life, whether it is about whatever,” said Bradford, “I think to have those interactions it is good for us to be around him because he does spend a lot of time with the defense, and those guys are with him a lot, but I think this year he has been around the offense more.”
Zimmer and Bradford texted every night while the coach rested his eye in Kentucky during OTAs. The advice usually consisted of Zimmer providing input through his defensive-minded lens, giving Bradford an idea of what defenses would be thinking in certain situations.
That openness has translated to the practice field upon Zimmer’s return. Thursday at practice, Zimmer called Bradford over to get his input on drills that were being quarterbacked by fourth-stringer Wes Lunt.
That type of give-and-take between Zimmer and Bradford should be more of a regularity this year.
“He is probably one the most upfront, honest coaches I have every played for, and I think that is one of the things the guys really respect because we know he is in it with us,” Bradford said.
- The Vikings hope to get healthier before training camp with a number of players held out of Thursday’s practice. T.J. Clemmings missed practice for the second straight day, and Rashod Hill was absent, leaving the offensive line thin at tackle. Receivers R.J. Shelton and Stacy Coley continued to be limited. Antone Exum Jr. and Shaan Washington were absent, presumably with more serious leg injuries. Sharrif Floyd has yet to resume practicing with a nerve issue in his quadriceps. Latavius Murray is still on track to appear at some point during training camp after ankle surgery. Teddy Bridgewater has not been cleared to practice, though he continues to perform individual drills.
- Taylor Symmank starred in the live punting drills, blasting several 60-plus yard punts and besting challenger Ryan Quigley, who hit several wobbly punts of around 40-45 yards.
- Pat Elflein got a little bit of work with the first-team offensive line, but Nick Easton still appears to be in the driver’s seat heading into camp, having received almost all of the first-team reps this spring.
- Zimmer’s doctor gave another positive report on the coach’s eye, saying that he’d be “shocked” if anything went wrong once the gas bubble in the eye dissolves. On the negative side, the doctor said there is roughly a one-in-five chance Zimmer could have issues with his other eye at some point.