Perhaps best known for delivering the hit that ended Brett Favre’s career, the former Bear is looking for a new home in the NFC North and he likes what he is seeing from his new coaching staff. Having gone through three coaching staffs in the last three years, Wootton has a lot of schemes to compare with the Vikings.
“The coaches have been great here,” Wootton said. “They’ve been great teaching the fundamentals of the game. For me, it’s something new and different after being in Chicago for four years. I was looking for something new and felt this would be a good fit for me.”
Wootton comes to the Vikings with plenty of familiarity with the personnel in the division. While many analysts believe the NFC West is the best division in the league, Wootton believes that the NFC North may be able to contend for that distinction this year, as the divisional rivalries are starting to heat up throughout the NFC North.
“The Packers and Bears have always been a rivalry because it’s the oldest one in the league,” Wootton said. “But the way things have gone recently, you could say that every game in the NFC North is a rivalry. It’s become a really competitive division. Detroit is really good now. Green Bay has been on top of the division for a while. Chicago is good and I really like what I see here from the Vikings. There was a time that there were only one or two good teams in the division. Now, top to bottom, you could put this division up against anybody.”
One advantage Wootton may have over many of his teammates is that, while moving outdoors has been big news in Minnesota, it’s no big deal for him. He’s spent the better part of his football career playing outdoors – often in less-than-ideal conditions. He believes it may give him a bit of an edge in the competition going on at defensive end because not only has he played outdoors, he’s played well and the elements don’t faze him.
“I’m used to playing in the weather,” Wootton said. “I played at Northwestern and then with the Bears. It can get pretty nasty at times late in the season, but I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me. It may take some getting used to for some of the guys, but I think once we start playing outside in the cold we’ll adjust and try to use it to our advantage.”
One of his biggest transitions has been dealing with the significant difference in coaching styles of his first head coach – Lovie Smith – and his current coach Mike Zimmer. While the two of them are both defensive-minded coaches, they couldn’t be more disparate and Wootton enjoys their differing styles.
“Coach Smith was pretty laid back, so Coach Zimmer was something of a change,” Wootton said. “I love playing for a defensive-minded coach. Coach Zimmer brings a lot of intensity and works hard on coaching everybody up – from the D-line to the linebackers to the secondary. He wants everybody to be prepared, be physical and set the tone on defense.”
Wootton believes one of his strengths for making his case to land a spot on the 53-man roster is that Smith employed a wave system with his defensive linemen that Zimmer is bringing to the Vikings. Players will come in and out often with the intention of keeping everyone fresh and not having them gas out at the end of games because of overuse, which may have explained how the Vikings lost leads in the final minute of five games last year – a dubious distinction that, had it not happened, could have seen the Vikings go from worst to first in the NFC North last season.
“I like the rotation system,” Wootton said. “In Chicago we did that a lot. The last couple of years I was rotating with (Julius) Peppers and (Israel) Idonije and everybody stayed fresh. You always want to be out on the field, but the rotation keeps everybody strong throughout the game so I understand why they do it.”
Wootton isn’t getting a lot of media attention from the circus in Mankato, but you can bet the coaching staff is watching and, with the positive intangibles he brings to the table, could be what separates him from the others competing for roster spots at defensive end this season.
FRIDAY PRACTICE NOTES
“It was sloppy,” Zimmer said. “We weren’t as precise as we’ve been on both sides of the ball. The effort was good, but some of the stuff runs together and they made a few too many mistakes for my liking.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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.