Vikings defense has the guys for disguise

The Vikings are experimenting with a lot of different looks on defense they didn’t show in the old defense. Mike Zimmer and his defenders discuss the possibilities with the “exotic looks” that will sometimes have three safeties or sometimes one safety on the field.

While observers try to figure out who will be the second safety next to Harrison Smith, head coach Mike Zimmer is keeping everyone guessing whether he’ll have one, two or three safeties in the game.

The Minnesota Vikings appear to be heading toward many more multiple looks and formations on defense than they have used in recent years. It’s a combination of scheme, personnel, skillsets and matchups that will be determined by when and where Zimmer thinks those “exotic looks” are best served.

“I’m really not sure exactly when we’re going to use them, when we’re not going to use certain looks that coach has going on,” Smith said. “Really, right now, I think as a player, just being flexible and being able to figure out what my job is and then know where other guys are in the defense as well is really what I’m focused on right now. Once we get into the games we’ll figure out when we’re going to do stuff.”

That seems to be the answer for multiple questions posed to defenders, whether the inquisition focuses on schemes, personnel or the level of aggressiveness. Players are getting to know the schematic weapons available in their cache, but when Zimmer wants to deploy them is a Minnesota mystery for now.

At times, those different looks involve using a linebacker as an extra rusher on the defensive line or Smith looking like he’s playing linebacker or nickel corner or even having three safeties on the field at once.

“We got some of those things in early, but we’ve got one with three corners and one safety right now,” Zimmer said. “Little things, just introducing them and then we’ll continually add some and then we’ll get to some more exotic things later in camp. That’s a ways away.”

The early portions of training camp were for reviewing what players learned in the minicamps and organized team activities of April, May and June. The things they learned about the Tampa-2 the Vikings have employed since 2006 are being rubbed from players’ brains, Smith and defensive end Brian Robison said.

Critics of that defense advance the notion that it is outdated, but Robison said it was more about good quarterbacks simply knowing what they were seeing.

“There was some times last year, especially when we played Green Bay and you play Chicago and Detroit twice a year, when they see your defense over and over and over again. Heck, there was some times we’d line up and Aaron Rodgers is calling out our defense as we’re lining up,” Robison said. “So sometimes that’s just the way it happens. But I think the thing with Zimmer’s defense is he’s going to definitely keep them off balance because there’s so many disguised looks, there’s so many ways that we line up in the defense; different fronts. It’s just all over the board. It’s a lot of stuff to learn in a short period of time, but if we can learn it and we can execute it, it’s going to keep offenses definitely off balance.”

Zimmer said that’s part of the reason he likes to experiment with different looks. Another reason? Sometimes he just wants to match up a certain skillset from one of his defenders against a certain player on offense and that might call for an extra safety, cornerback or linebacker “to get an advantage protection-wise, force an offense into doing certain things.”

“It just depends,” Smith said. “The great thing about safety is you’ll be down, you’ll be back, coming off the edge, you’ll be doing all these different things. So I could end up in a lot of different positions. It might even look like something else, but I’m still playing safety. There’s a lot of different things going on that we get to get involved with, which is awesome, which I love.”

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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