Sunday slant: Tone of practices turns

The days of the calm, measured practices under Leslie Frazier have been swept away with a coaching change. Mike Zimmer's coaching staff has set a new attitude about how things will be done on the practice field.

The view of the newest members of the Minnesota Vikings on Friday provided a look at 26 drafted and free-agent rookies and a few dozen attending on a tryout basis. There was plenty for the eyes to try to familiarize with, but other senses let onlookers realize there was more that was fresh beyond the players.

There was plenty of talking, and it went beyond Teddy Bridgewater impressively calling out the blitzes for protections and helping out his receivers with alignments. As much as the focus was on Bridgewater, the ears were perked several times by an undeniable change in tone from the coaching staff.

If fans were irritated by the lack of emotion former head coach Leslie Frazier exuded on the sidelines, they will be in for a treat from this coaching staff. If fans are offended by the occasional blue streak, they best hope that the crowd at TCF Bank Stadium and later the new, unnamed Vikings stadium is excited enough to drown out the sideline noise.

This clearly, unmistakably isn't Frazier's coaching staff anymore. These aren't his schemes and philosophies on defense; there aresn't the dull mumblings of coordinator Bill Musgrave on offense. Frazier's Tampa-2 tendencies are being replaced by Zimmer's aggressive approach, one that personifies itself with the Xs and Os on the game field and the detailed, boisterous teaching on the practice fields.

The change in attitude has broken through in many ways.

In Zimmer's first press conference, he questioned a description of him being blunt, but that wasn't an insult. Blunt doesn't have to mean bullying or dictatorial. At times, he can be blunt, and he isn't going to shy away from confrontation, with players and reporters. When one reporter mischaracterized Zimmer's answer about Anthony Barr's chances to start when questioning Barr upon his arrival in Minnesota, Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman weren't going to let the question reach its end without correcting the erroneous explanation. Barr will have a great chance to start, but, like any position this year with the Vikings, he will have to earn it.

First-round draft choice, undrafted rookies and incumbent starters are all going to have to prove their worth all over again. In Zimmer's defensive system and Norv Turner's offensive scheme. With Zimmer's brand of coaches. To everyone in the organization.

Surprisingly, Zimmer didn't need to be the boisterous one during the rookies' first day at practice. He had plenty of assistants that weren't going to let players get away with mistakes, even if it was their first time taking the classroom lesson onto the field. Even if it was a player that stood little chance to make the roster 53-man roster in less than four months. Certainly, these players aren't going to be allowed to make the same errors again and again.

Turner, seemingly mild and measured off the field, unleashed on a running back when he didn't bounce a play outside, reminding him that the situation that presented itself on the afternoon practice field was exactly what was discussed during the morning classroom session.

Turner's animated discussion was complemented by running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who pulled one of his running backs after he wasn't in the right spot for pass protection. No words were pulled in letting it be known that mental mistakes wouldn't be easily overlooked.

Other coaches joined the teaching time, letting receivers hear about various mistakes, from lining up too wide to not running the right route. There is little doubt many of the rookies' heads were spinning on their first day of practice, but the overall tone of the practice was clear: you might not know everything now, but it's now your job to learn it as soon as possible and be better next time.

This very well could be a case of tearing down the rookies who were stars for their college teams and letting them realize they have a lot to learn, and then building them back up once they have their attention.

This isn't to imply that Friday's session that was open to the media was a shouting match for two hours. It was just clear that a change in tone has taken place with the change in coaching staffs. Zimmer isn't Frazier. Turner isn't Musgrave. And practice is the time to get everything right that was learned in an earlier study session or walk-through.

There is a sense of humor and genuineness to Zimmer, too. Two weeks earlier, when coaching up Xavier Rhodes on techniques that were new to the second-year cornerback, the coach joked that Rhodes would look like a professional defensive back soon. The new staff will coach the players hard, but in the end they likely will be better for it.

This could be tough-love lesson time, and it could be exactly what the Vikings need to turn potential into production.


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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