Vikings

Who Should Be On Mike Zimmer's Shoulders?

Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea (USA TODAY Sports)

In attempting to explain why he isn’t running his players into the ground during practice, Mike Zimmer says he has been touched by two divine beings.

“Well,” the sexagenarian coach explained, “I have two little angels or devils or whatever they call them on my shoulders, you know?”

Hold on, Mike. I gotta stop you there. Are you telling me you don’t know the difference between a harp-plucking cherub and Lucifer incarnate?

“Yeah, I don’t know if they’re angels or devils,” Zimmer said, nonchalantly, as though that’s okay. “They were both saying the same thing today, and usually, I’m the one saying the opposite most of the time. I tell them we better win or it’s…”

He trailed off.

The men who sit on Zimmer’s shoulders and whisper sweet nothings into his ear are none other than Minnesota Vikings strength coach Josh Hingst and trainer Eric Sugarman. Bless these men. One has to make athletes who can already lift an SUV even stronger. The other has to keep these gladiators healthy. Both have to convince Zimmer not to practice his aging core of players from the crack of dawn until sunset.

These are his better angels.

But it takes a village to get an old-school man to adapt to new-school ways. Therefore, I’m holding a shoulder angel audition to advise Minnesota’s gruff ball coach until the end of the season. These spiritual companions have guided Pinto in Animal House, Kronk in The Emporer’s New Groove, and Peter Griffin in Family Guy. Surely, they can help our cantankerous Kentuckian.

First up is the late, great Denny Green.

Dennis Green, head coach (1992-2001)

Green kicks in the door and shouts, “They are who we thought they were!”

Dennis, you’re shouting. These are thin walls.

“They are,” he repeated, “who we thought they were!”

Who Dennis? Who?!?

Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson,” he replied. “They’re superstars. He’s gotta get them the ball!”

I know. We all see it. But it’s gotten better recently, right? Jefferson had over 100 yards receiving against the Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers. Thielen had two touchdowns in the loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

“He needs to target these guys more,” offered Green. “This defense has given up 30-plus points in three of the last four weeks. The rules favor the passing game. Jefferson and Thielen catch anything thrown near them! If they don’t, they’ll probably draw a pass interference penalty!”

Totally with you there. It’s a passing league, and Zimmer is pressing Kirk Cousins to throw deep more. Kirk just gets conservative sometimes, especially after throwing a pick as he did against San Francisco. It kinda goes in a cycle: He plays well, then struggles in a big moment, becomes conservative, then plays well again.

“In 1998, we just threw it up there and let Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed make a play,” Green replied, cutting me off. “Randall Cunningham and Brad Johnson weren’t afraid of throwing picks. They knew the offense was powerful and had to win them games!”

I hear you loud and clear. It’s a great message for a defense-first coach like Zimmer to hear periodically and pass on to his $150 million quarterback. You are hereby nominated to become a shoulder angel.

Fran Tarkenton, quarterback (1961-66, 1972-78)

Green exits the room, and a frantic Tarkenton rushes in behind him. He’s short of breath and in a full sweat.

“Sorry I’m late,” he says, pressing his hands against my desk. “I couldn’t find my keys, and nobody had taken the dog out. The car wouldn’t start, and then I got behind the slowest driver ever. Missed every light, got off on the wrong exit. Couldn’t find the entrance to the building, climbed the stairs to save time, and ended up on the wrong floor.”

Relax, Fran, you’re here. What have you got for me today?

“Kirk’s low-key got wheels, man,” he exclaimed. “I mean, remember when he took off against the Arizona Cardinals earlier in the year? Remember the ‘Kirk Vick’ phenomenon from last year? The guy can move a bit.”

I never really thought of Kirk as a mobile quarterback.

“He is,” said Tarkenton, cutting me off. “Look, he’s not Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray out there. But he could help his offensive line out a little bit. Step up in the pocket once in a while, use his legs to buy time.”

I see. I think I follow.

Case Keenum wasn’t an Olympic sprinter, but he covered for a porous offensive line,” continued Tarkenton. “We didn’t sign Kirk for his mobility. His strength is progressing through his reads and finding the open man. But sometimes you gotta work off-schedule.”

I couldn’t agree more.

“Zimmer should push Cousins to not only take a few more deep shots but also buy time for an improving but still-shaky offensive line,” said Tarkenton. “He also couldn’ve run it in on that two-point conversion last week instead of skipping the ball to Jefferson.”

Totally with you, Fran. Thank you for the insight. You are hereby nominated to be a shoulder angel. The elevator is to the left, past the third door down the hallway.

Bud Grant, head coach (1967-83, 1985)

The window to my office screeches open. A rush of cold, December air fills the room. In crawls Bud Grant. He immediately rushes to the thermostat, turns it off, and questions my manhood. He then proceeds to crawl back out the window, complaining about how elevator technology has made people soft as he scales down the side of the building.

I remain uncertain if he wants to be a shoulder angel, but I leave the door open just in case. Maybe he’d push Zimmer to go for it more on fourth-and-short and push Klint Kubiak to throw it on second-and-long. I do, however, close the window and turn the heat back on.

Randy Moss, wide receiver (1998-2004, 2010)

“Randall Cunningham. Brad Johnson. Jeff George!”

Excuse me?

Daunte Culpepper. Todd Bouman. Spergon Wynn!!”

As I was bolting the window shut, the Superfreak himself had entered the room.

What’s going on, Randy?

“Those were my quarterbacks! Cunningham was retired. Brad, a ninth-round pick who spent the 1995 season with the London Monarchs,” he drawled. “Jeff George was two years from retirement. Todd Bouman played at St. Cloud State! Wynn was cut by the Browns!”

What about Daunte?

“Great quarterback,” Moss replied, “but he’s most famous for throwing a touchdown pass to Jim Kleinsasser.”

Where are you going with this?

“Great receivers make quarterbacks,” he said, “but only if they throw it to their receivers.”

Point taken. Zimmer needs to keep prodding Cousins to throw it deep. You are hereby nominated to become a shoulder angel.

Satisfied with my process, I call it a day. As I’m packing my things, a man with a fake nose and glasses passes by the office. He proceeds to walk into the next room, introduces himself as “Kurt,” and tells a bewildered CPA that the best shot is often the one you don’t take. Unwilling to pass this room on the way to the elevator, I opt to pry open the window and use the fire escape to leave the building.

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