Mike Zimmer doesn't seem to care what scheme the Vikings run on defense.
Zimmer is the defensive mastermind roundly respected in Cincinnati for his six seasons of work there, but he has experience using a 3-4 defensive scheme and 3-4 scheme. The names and numbers don't matter to Zimmer as much as the players incorporated into them.
"It doesn't matter what you do, honestly. It doesn't matter what system you run," Zimmer said. "Whether it's West Coast, run-and-shoot, the 4-3 or the 3-4, it's how you do it – everybody speaking the same language and working together. That's what I learned."
Zimmer has learned from a lot of well-known football minds. There is Bill Parcells, who was referenced often Friday as Zimmer was introduced to the Minnesota masses (Zimmer sported his Super Bowl ring from the 1995 Dallas Cowboys when he was an assistant under Parcells). Before Parcells, there was Barry Switzer with the Cowboys and after that Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Scheme isn't the key, Zimmer reiterated numerous times. It's the players that will shape what scheme is implemented.
"I want to fit our scheme to the players, to the best of their abilities," Zimmer said. "… As far as my philosophy, I want to stop the run and I want to hit the quarterback. So, however that is, if we've got to blitz I think we have a great blitz package. But I want to be fundamentally sound in what we do. There's teams that can go out there and make a lot of big plays, but they're not fundamentally sound. And then when the game gets on the line, they don't perform in the crucial situations of the game."
The 2013 Vikings can relate to that, losing four games in the final minute of play and having another end in a tie when allowing an opponent score in the final minute.
Zimmer is considering calling the plays on defense, although that will be determined as he goes through the offseason and the preseason. First he wants to hire his defensive coordinator and see how he operates. From there, he will decide if he calls the plays on game day or allows his coordinator to do it.
"I may. I do think that's one of my expertise areas. If need be, I will. That'll be a little bit of a transition, and I'll have to work through that," Zimmer said. "I think part of that for me will be the preseason games. How I feel about the things we're doing defensively and how I feel about the game management, communicating with offense."
"… I'm an observer. Everybody says I'm going to chew people out and all this stuff. That's not true. I go out and observe what needs to be fixed, and I fix. I do think I'm a fixer."
There are plenty of things to fix with the Vikings defense from 2013. It finished 31st in total defense – 16th against the run and 31st against the pass.
But whether he calls the defensive plays or not, Zimmer said he will be "very" involved in shaping it.
"It's always to going to be part of my little baby," he said, "because that's kind of who I am and what got me here. So that will always be a big part of me."
Several of the Vikings' biggest pending free agents are on the defensive side of the ball. Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen on the defensive line, along with Desmond Bishop at linebacker and Chris Cook in the secondary.
Like most coaches, Zimmer enters the job preaching toughness and discipline, passion and work ethic, technique and resilience.
But his schemes will be dictated by the personnel he sees, not the coaches or coordinators' preference. And when mistakes are made, "the fixer" will be there working.
"If guys are doing things correctly, there's no issues whatsoever," Zimmer said. "I've told my players many, many times before when we've had a bad game, I said, ‘Here's what I do. I fix stuff. I'm going to go out, and I'm going to fix this.' They all trust that I'm going to get it fixed. That's kind of what my personality is."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Zimmer, the ‘fixer,' open to choice of scheme
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