For the last three years, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer had an office across the hall from each other at Cincinnati Bengals headquarters.
This week, they’ll set up shop on opposite sidelines in Minnesota.
“I honestly don’t like going against my friends, just because at the end of the day one of us is going to be upset,” said Zimmer, who was hired by the Vikings this season, a week after Washington picked Gruden to take over the Redskins. “It is what it is, and so I’m sure he’ll have his team ready to play, and hopefully I’ll have mine ready to play.”
Zimmer spent the last six years as defensive coordinator for the Bengals, and Gruden was the offensive coordinator for the last three.
“We competed every day in practice. It was not friendly, usually. Both of us are pretty good competitors and we all wanted to win the drill, definitely, in Cincinnati so we had our share of arguments and tension, but ultimately I have a ton of respect for him,” Gruden said.
Particularly for his ability to scheme.
“I’ve seen some of the best quarterbacks come in there and walk out of there scratching their head,” Gruden said.
Of course, Gruden has been planning for a defense he has seen often. Gruden, like his fellow first-time head coach, has been busy trying to put his stamp on a team in need of some repair.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “He’s been a great coach to play for. He’s the type of guy you want to win for because he’s competitive and a very tough-minded coach.”
Here are some key nuggets to know about the game between the Redskins (3-5) and Vikings (3-5):
RG3 RETURNS: Robert Griffin III is expected to return at quarterback for the Redskins, who’ve turned to Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy since Griffin dislocated his left ankle in the second game of the season. McCoy completed 36 of 42 passes and led the overtime victory at Dallas on Monday night, but this is Griffin’s job.
In two prior games against the Vikings, he’s thrown for four touchdowns and rushed for two while turning the ball over once.
BLITZING BRIDGEWATER: Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has used a variety of blitzes out of his 3-4 scheme, and the rush has been largely effective. They had five sacks against the Cowboys, and with a rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater the opponent this week, the Redskins are again likely to bring the heat.
“It’s very exotic. You never know what you’re going to get,” said Bridgewater, who will make his fifth career start.
Kerrigan credited new linebackers coach Brian Baker, who was a Vikings assistant from 2001-05, with refining his technique. He’s fourth in the NFL with 7½ sacks.
“At times I would rush too wide and wouldn’t take the most direct route to the quarterback, and when you’re doing that you’re taking more time, and by that time the ball’s gone,” Kerrigan said.
TWO-MINUTE TEDDY: Bridgewater guided a nine-play, 61-yard drive over the final 1:57 of regulation last week to get the Vikings in position for the tying field goal. Though he’s been up and down since taking over the job, he has shown a knack for handling those hurry-up situations.
“Our coaches are calling great plays, allowing me to think less, but still me being a young guy and trying to be perfect, I find myself thinking too much,” Bridgewater said. “I have to continue to trust my teammates, trust everything that I’m being taught and allow those guys to make plays.”
TEMPERED ENTHUSIASM: The Redskins, who have already matched their victory total from last season, have won their last two games. With Minnesota, a bye week and a home game against Tampa Bay (1-6), an ascent into the NFC East race is possible. But left tackle Trent Williams tried to offer some caution.
“We’ve only won three out of eight games. You’re not going to see anybody around here beating their chests,” he said.
PROTEST PLANNED: Nationwide pressure on the Redskins to drop their nickname has been ratcheting up, with critics decrying it as racist and owner Dan Snyder and defenders claiming it’s a tribute to Native Americans. Minnesota has been a ground zero of sorts for the movement, and there’s a protest planned by several groups prior to the game. Radio ads have been running this week to elicit support for the rally, which will include a march through the University of Minnesota campus to the stadium.
Former Vikings strong safety Joey Browner, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, is scheduled to be one of the speakers against the nickname at the event.
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