Of all the things coaching lifer Mike Zimmer loves about the job, rolling up his sleeves and teaching young players the game might rank right near the top.
The new Minnesota Vikings coach had ample opportunity Friday to do just that when he convened his first rookie minicamp. Zimmer and the rest of his coaching staff got their hands on their first rookie class, including first-round draft picks Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater.
Barr, the ninth overall pick, is a pass-rushing linebacker who only converted to defense at UCLA two years ago. His size and athleticism helped him rocket up the draft board. Zimmer is looking forward to helping Barr learn the nuances of the position and molding him into an impact player on the edge of a revamped defense.
When Zimmer was hired, he described himself as "a fixer," the kind of coach who could get the most out of players by honing techniques and focusing on the minutiae of the position. In Barr, a former running back who had 23½ sacks in two seasons with the Bruins, he sees a blank canvas.
"I love taking guys with talent and coaching that, because those kind of guys you can take them a lot further," Zimmer said when the Vikings chose Barr.
Zimmer likened Barr to "a fawn" when he was first selected, implying that he had a lot of growing to do. On Friday, Zimmer deadpanned he's "progressed to a doe."
"I know that's a big thing with everybody, he's only played two years," Zimmer said. "The things he's done defensively he's done pretty well. Like today, we just lined up and ran some plays. He played behind the line of scrimmage some, we didn't blitz him. Just learning coverage and run responsibilities, where to be. Actually he did that really, really well. Watched him a lot today. I don't think it's going to be an issue whatsoever."
This weekend was especially important for Barr, third-round defensive end Scott Crichton and fifth-round guard David Yankey. The three players attend schools on the quarter system rather than semesters. Under NFL rules, those players can't attend the other voluntary practices later this month and in June.
"I'm still just getting started," Barr said. "I think that after the weekend I'll have a better idea as to what is going to be my biggest hurdle."
Bridgewater, the Louisville quarterback who fell to No. 32 in the first round, got to run some of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner's offense for the first time. He is third on the depth chart behind veterans Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder and has a lot to learn, but Zimmer said he has been impressed by the rookie's study habits and work ethic.
"I think he's got a good presence, a good command of the way he's taking things," Zimmer said.
The biggest project will be the youngsters in the secondary. The Vikings addressed other needs early in the draft and did not start adding depth to the defensive backfield until the sixth round. Cornerbacks Kendall James and Jabari Price and safety Antone Exum all will have a chance to make the team because of the relative lack of depth there.
"They'll start at the bottom. It doesn't mean they'll end there at the bottom," Zimmer said of all the rookies on the depth chart. "You've got to line them up somewhere, so they'll start down there and we'll go from there."
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Zimmer gets his hands on rookies
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