Zimmer recounts progress, weaknesses

Mike Zimmer gave a progress report on offense and defense as the Vikings approach their first preseason game. He also revealed what he’s doing to prepare for his first game as a head coach.

More than a week into training camp practices and less than a week from their first preseason game, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer knows where the team is excelling early and where the weaknesses are.

Offensively, the strength remains in the running game and run blocking, he said.

“I anticipated us aligning not as well as we have been. I think we’ve done a good job there in some of those areas. I think we’re blocking the run pretty good. I think we’ve got to get better in our pass protection,” he said.

But Zimmer’s forte and background remains on defense, and he has found some criticisms in the first week of camp.

“I thought we’d line up a little bit better than what we are. They’re getting a lot of movement in things, but I thought we’d be a lot more precise in our alignments than what we are,” he said. “And we’re probably ahead in the blitz package than what I thought we (would be).”

Zimmer had a top-10 defense in many areas during his six seasons as defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The last two seasons, the Bengals were ranked in the top 10 in yards and points. Last year, they were ranked third in yards and fifth in points. They were also fifth in rushing attempts, fifth in rushing yards and fourth in rushing touchdowns. Teams tried to throw on them, as they were 28th in pass attempts, but they held up well, ranking fifth in yards, 11th in receiving touchdowns and fifth in interceptions.

Asked to compare the progress of his Vikings defense to the Bengals’ defense, Zimmer said he has to remember where he started with building Cincinnati’s defense, not where it was last year.

“We’re doing some really, really good things and they are paying attention and learning, they’re studying,” Zimmer said. “My meetings are a little different than most meetings in (other) places in the NFL. Things happen in the game that they may not have seen in practice this week. And then to be a top-10 defensive football team, you have to be good in pass defense, you have to be able to rush the quarterback, you’ve got to be good on third downs and you’ve got to be able to stop the run and make the quarterback one-dimensional.

“I’m not happy, but probably satisfied with the progress on where we are. I’m never happy.”

He wasn’t satisfied with the Vikings’ performance in practice on Friday, calling it “sloppy” and the worst practice of camp. He was hoping that would improve in Saturday night’s practice under the lights.

“I told them we have an expectation level around here that we expect to meet and I expect them to get better today,” he said.

The Vikings won’t be hitting live, Zimmer said, but they will work on their no-huddle offense, two-minute drill, short-yardage situations and some regular “move-the-ball” situations.

Next Friday, they finally get to go against another opponent. Indications are the starters could play a couple series against the Oakland Raiders, but Zimmer plans to keep things simple.

“Coaches will start going and looking at the Raiders, but I told our players last night we’ve got a game in six days now but to me this is about us and us getting better and evaluating our guys against other guys. I don’t want to go out there and trick the Raiders,” he said. “I want to go out and play solid, fundamental football where guys aren’t thinking and their athletic ability (can) show up. I’m sure we could probably run some blitzes that they’re not ready for, but that’s not really what I want to do. I want to find out if we can cover and we can line up and play the run. If we can block people in the running game and if we can get open on offense and throw the ball in the right places.”

General manager Rick Spielman has also gotten involved in trying to prepare Zimmer for his first experience as a head coach. On Friday, Spielman quizzed Zimmer on about 15 different game scenarios – when to challenge, when to call timeouts and when to kick a field goal – to help prepare the rookie head coach.

The two of them are expected to spend about an hour each of the next four days getting into that aspect of coaching even more.

“That’s kind of where my focus is right now,” Zimmer said.

While giving offensive coordinator Norv Turner a lot of freedom on offense, Zimmer is also talking with him about certain game strategies.

“Honestly, I trust Norv’s judgment and what it is. I’ll come in and talk to him about how are we going to get this guy blocked this week? What do you think the best runs are? I will give him input,” Zimmer said. “I talked to him about a couple things last week, but the biggest input from me: ‘It’s this situation, Norv. We need to run the ball here. We’ve been running it down their throats, let’s not throw it three times. Let’s get another run in here, give the ball to Adrian (Peterson), whatever it is.’ Things that I see on tape – they’re having a hard time adjusting with backfield formations, things like that.”


  • Rookie guard David Yankey isn’t likely to get much action with the first team “probably for a while,” according to Zimmer.

    “He missed so much time coming from Stanford and missed all the OTAs, so his technique has a long way to go still, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get there,” Zimmer said. “He’s a smart kid, but he’s working real hard on his techniques, his sets. He’s not making many mental errors as far as who to block and things like that, but he’s got to do a better job with the technical part of the game with what we’re teaching. It may take a little time.”

    Zimmer said continuity on the offensive line “is extremely important.”

  • Safety Robert Blanton remains out with a hamstring injury suffered Monday night and the timing of his return isn’t known.

  • Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) is “real close” to returning to practice, Zimmer said, and will likely rejoin practices on Monday.

    “I’m pretty hard on the corners so they have to make sure they’re out there and going and getting better all the time,” Zimmer said.

  • Tight end AC Leonard is still taking some tests to determine what happened with his headache that took him out of practice earlier this week.

  • Andrew Sendejo sat out practice again Saturday, but said he is hoping to get clearance to start practicing Monday following the team’s off day on Sunday. He still hasn’t received medical clearance for a back injury that has been bothering him since the start of OTAs in the spring. He said he’s itching to get back on the field so he can make an impression on the coaching staff.

  • The highlight of the morning walk-through was an 11-on-11 simulation in which Cassel threw a 50-yard strike to Jerome Simpson that got a huge ovation from the crowd in attendance.

  • About half of the walk-through was spent working on special teams coverage.

  • Sometimes it’s good to have friends from your alma mater. Last month, Phil Loadholt and Charlie Johnson brought their kids to a WWE event at Target Center and had ringside seats. Asked how he got such premium tickets, Loadholt said he’s friends with Jim Ross, a long-time executive with WWE and an unabashed Oklahoma Sooners fan. Loadholt has maintained a friendship with Ross over the years and he hooked him up with the tickets.

  • It was a steamy, humid morning practice, which might make it more advantageous that the longer practice won’t be until 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Blakeslee Field.

    John Holler contributed to this report.

    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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