Zimmer wants personal look at his talent

Mike Zimmer has watched film of most of his players, but he is reserving firm judgments until he has a chance for first-hand evaluations on the field with his team.

First he was hiring a coaching staff that has gained the respect of many. Next he was creating a schedule for the offseason and maybe even for the season.

Through those tasks, both tedious and necessary, new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer hasn't had much time to get into the hardcore football task of breaking down film.

He has reviewed many of the Vikings' players, especially the pending free agents, but he is withholding judgment on his players until he has a chance to evaluate them first-hand, and in his system with his coaches.

"I try not to prejudge until I watch them in minicamp when we first start getting going. Because No. 1 I don't know if the guy's a smart guy yet. I don't know what they were being told to do. And I try not to pre-judge any of that," Zimmer said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I'll have a better idea once I get a chance to get on the field with them and talk to them a little bit more. I think you can make a lot of mistakes by guessing, ‘OK, well he should have been doing this but maybe the coach was telling him to do something else.' … Whatever they were telling could be right or wrong or maybe the player was not doing it right, too. So those things, and there's so many different ways to do it, it's what you believe in and how you do it."

Zimmer will get his first chance to start evaluating the Vikings' players in person in April when the team's offseason conditioning program moves into Phase 2 and players can start working on some techniques and fundamentals with position coaches.

That will give Zimmer a better idea of the holes in the offense and defense he has left to fill by drafting players in May. But before that predraft minicamp, the Vikings will have free agency to occupy their acquisition fancy (and salary cap room).

The Vikings have 15 unrestricted free agents, including veteran quarterback Matt Cassel, but many of the other major free agent decisions fall on the defensive side of the ball.

Jared Allen, who had a salary cap number of $17 million in 2013, is the team's top free agent and might not fit within the team's salary cap or trend to get younger. Everson Griffen, the rotational defensive end/defensive tackle, would like the opportunity to be a starter, but he, too, is scheduled to be a free agent.

Might that be an opportunity for Brian Robison to slide into Allen's spot at left defensive end? Don't expect Zimmer to answer that until he has a chance to see Robison on the field and in person, and determine if Griffen or Allen are in purple when the Vikings' April minicamp arrives.

"My view is I don't know them well enough yet," Zimmer said. "When we get on the field I'll have a much better idea of what I think. Obviously I've watched them play a little bit and I've talked to all these guys that you're talking about and I've talked to them on the phone. I don't really know them, you know what I mean?

"But when I get them on the field and when I start seeing them for a day or two and we start getting them back in, then I'll have a much better idea of Brian if he can play the right side. I don't know if he can get in a left-handed stance. He's always been in a right-handed stance. So I just don't know enough about him, about each person and how effective they are and vice versa. Everson, I know he's a good athlete and all that, but I don't know."

With free agency only three weeks away, Zimmer called the minicamp before the draft "extremely important" in helping him further form his evaluation of the remaining team needs.

"If you have all the information before the draft, then you can move your pieces around and change things and kind of figure out, OK, well, all right, this looks like it's going to be fine here," he said. "Or, holy cow, we've got to fix this right away."

Like the defensive line, the linebacker corps is also in flux.

Chad Greenway is the only established starter under contract for 2014. After that, it's a mostly young and inexperienced crew since the team cut Erin Henderson earlier this month after he was arrested twice for driving under the influence in the second half of the 2013 season.

Zimmer said he didn't speak with Henderson before the team released him, but he knows what he is looking for among the linebackers on the team in 2014.

"Smart guys, great competitors. I always like to have speed," Zimmer said. "Guys who want to buy into the system because in my system we may not have guys that get 15 sacks. We're going to play the run too, hopefully, and they're going to rush the passer and have time to rush the passer. So, they may not get all the stats that everybody else gets. I think part of it's got to be unselfishness, too."

The roster building and even the evaluations, it's all still very much a work in progress. But soon Zimmer will have a better grasp on what he needs and what is out there to help fill those needs. For now, he's ready to move onto tasks that more closely resemble the more familiar parts of being a football coach.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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