Zimmer: Vikings will install much of August

The Vikings will continue to install their offensive and defensive plays for several more weeks of the preseason before cutting it off and getting specifically into the review stage and game-planning stage.

Now approaching one week away from his first preseason game as an NFL head coach, Mike Zimmer plans to keep installing on offense, defense and special teams through much of the month of August.

For some units, the Minnesota Vikings have reached the fourth installation. Other parts have yet to be installed as Zimmer ramps up the volume of his defense and Norv Turner does the same on offense.

In the recent past, the Vikings have spent very little time prepping for their opening opponent of the preseason. This year, with Zimmer at the helm, they will do a little preparation next Tuesday and Wednesday before showing their product on TV for the first time under Zimmer. The Vikings’ preseason starts at 7 p.m. Aug. 8 against the Oakland Raiders. It will be shown locally on KARE-11.

“At this time during camp we’re still really installing our offense and defense and special teams, and we’re trying to continue to get better in what we’re doing and really not too worried about the Raiders at this point,” Zimmer said. “But the guys are working hard, we had a good practice yesterday, we did some move-the-ball and so things are going OK. I don’t want to say good yet.”

The installation periods will last until about two weeks before the regular-season opener, which is Sept. 7 at St. Louis.

“Once we get (a couple weeks out), then we’re pretty good, unless there’s something, obviously, game plan-wise,” Zimmer said. “But I want our guys to play fast in the game and not think.”

Now a week into training camp, Zimmer has been busy moving his pieces around, especially on defense, where injuries are starting to alter who can be used, and where.

The defensive backfield has been hit especially hard. Safety Robert Blanton had been in the lead to earn the starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith before Blanton injured his hamstring Monday night under the lights of Blakeslee Stadium. He could miss several weeks.

That initially meant Jamarca Sanford moved up with the starting unit. Now, however, Zimmer wants to get a look at Mistral Raymond, which is causing Harrison Smith to move to the other safety position.

“(We’ll) continue to look at these guys we have and try to narrow that situation down,” Zimmer said. “Right now we have Mistral Raymond in there. We’re moving guys around.”

At cornerback, Captain Munnerlyn, who started camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a hamstring injury, will start doing some full-team work Thursday afternoon, Zimmer said.

Josh Robinson, who left practice Wednesday with a minor hamstring injury, was back working with the first-team defense during Thursday morning’s walk-through.

The linebackers have been in flux, too, but that has more to do with Zimmer trying to find out the strengths of each of his players at that position. Veteran Chad Greenway had received some time at middle linebacker, but for now he is being moved back to his more familiar spot at weakside linebacker so Zimmer can look at others, like Jasper Brinkley, Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Mike Zimmer (the linebacker) in the middle.

The head coach said he “doesn’t know” how the linebacker rotation will work just yet. He’ll make a decision “when I feel good about it, I guess. I don’t know. I have no idea. We’re just going to let it play out and keep going and keep getting these guys reps and try and figure out the best way we can and where we’re going to go from there.”

Meanwhile, first-round pick Anthony Barr has continued to become more integrated with the first-team defense on the strong side. Coaches and teammates have raved about his pass-rushing skills, despite him being late on a rush during Wednesday’s full-team work. But Zimmer also complimented Barr on his coverage abilities, which Barr admitted is something he needs to improve.

“Coverage is great. He moves well. He’s got a good idea,” Zimmer said. “Somebody was telling me that he takes copious notes in the meetings. He’s got pages and pages of them as we talk so he’s very into what we’re trying to do and teach. He’s got a lot of raw athletic ability that helps in the coverage aspect of things. There’s times when he may pull off of somebody a little bit too soon and he’s got to be better with that. But for the most part I’ve been very pleased with that.”

On Saturday, the Vikings will hold another practice under the lights of Blakeslee Stadium, but Zimmer said he isn’t planning any live contact during that practice, at least at this point, mostly because he wants to avoid any more injuries.

“It will be a lot more situations, red zone, move the ball, blitz periods,” Zimmer said. “We’re just trying to get better each and every day. We’re trying to make this football team tough, physical, smart. We want to make sure we don’t make mistakes, we don’t beat ourselves. We want to play real hard, like I’ve said a million times.

“I’m going to keep saying it and I’m going to keep saying to our football team, I want our fans when they watch us play on Sundays, when they turn the TV off or they leave the stadium, they say, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to watch these next week. They play real hard. They play with passion. They do things right. They play the game the right way.’ We’re just trying to get better each and every day.”

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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