Sunday slant: A pair for perennial contenders

The Vikings are trying to build back into a perennial playoff contender. It is up to Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman to get them there.

Eventually, Teddy Bridgwater and Cordarrelle Patterson should get on the same page and move forward as two players most important to moving the franchise into consistent winners.

Eventually, all of Anthony Barr’s immense talent and unending athletic ability should translate into him being one of the more dominant defenders in the league and the Swiss Army Knife of Mike Zimmer’s defense.

Up and down the Minnesota Vikings roster, there are young players on the brink of stepping up and coming together for better things ahead.

But there is one relationship that that matters more than any combination of players on the roster. Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman will be the two most responsible for turning around a franchise that has had back-to-back winning seasons only once (2008-2009) since the turn of the century.

That is the ultra-important pairing that will decide who is drafted in the future to add to a burgeoning roster of hope and fill in the pieces to the puzzle that appears to be shaping into something worthy of being displayed as a centerpiece in the future. To date, the Zimmer-Spielman pairing has had only one draft together. They wisely passed on Johnny Manziel and selected Barr at No. 9 of the first round, then revisited the pursuit of a franchise quarterback in the last third of the first round – first considering trading up to draft Manziel at No. 22, where the Cleveland Browns outbid them, then deciding on Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round in a series of moves that was part luck and part restraint.

Manziel remains on Cleveland’s bench, waiting impatiently with a franchise that also appears to be turning things around, while Bridgewater has been thrown into the circus of rookie quarterbacks trying to safely jump through the fiery rings.

Zimmer admits he isn’t patient and wants to win now. He should. That’s his personality. Spielman also wants to win now, but he also saw his veterans stack of chips disappear quickly after the 2009 season when the Vikings went all-in with Brett Favre. They have been rebuilding ever since.

”Zim’s not very patient. He wants everything right now,” Spielman said. “I’m kind of the guy who sometimes always has rose-colored glasses on or looking through rose-colored glasses. But I think we make a pretty good team in that balance between the two of us.”

This will have to be the decision-making team the franchise relies upon if they want to become a consistent winner anytime soon. Zimmer has the defensive knowledge and Spielman obsesses over talent evaluation, as he should. From the time that Zimmer was hired, the two have seemed to click. It would have been impossible for Spielman not to get along with former coach Leslie Frazier, but it seemed that Spielman knew the end was near with Frazier when he drafted cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who is a much better fit in Zimmer’s scheme than he was in the Tampa-2 zone that Frazier live – or more accurately died – by.

This year, the Barr pick was a perfect fit for Zimmer’s love of well-timed blitzes and disguising exactly how a defender is going to be used from play to play.

But the attitudes of Spielman and Zimmer are an interesting mix. Zimmer, as his starring role in Hard Knocks showed, can be blunt with a blue streak. Spielman, meanwhile, has turned into a sounding board for Zimmer at times.

“We make a good balance together. I’m a pretty good person that he can vent to,” Spielman said. “But also we have very open and candid communication and I think that is key, but we both believe in the same thing and believe in what we want and what we want this football team to look like and what type of players we want to bring in here.”

So how often does Zimmer vent?

“Hourly,” Spielman joked. “But that’s his personality and that’s what makes him, I believe, the type of coach that he is that he is very driven and his staff is very driven and I think that’s flowing right down to our players.”

From the first month of the season, Zimmer has stressed to the players that it’s not OK to lose. They can’t be satisfied with competing. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has fallen in stride with that philosophy, too, often saying that the teams isn’t going to “play” a game but to “win” a game.

Zimmer is setting high standards, as he should. The Vikings need to get back to the glory years of Bud Grant and a defense with an attitude.

Spielman won’t define what he would consider a successful season, other than to say that anything short of a Super Bowl leaves them unfulfilled.

“I don’t think we’re ever satisfied. I think you’re always continuing to try to get better and we want to continue to improve this football team and I know Coach Zim has referred to it and we’re just in the very infant part of this program and taking on what coach Zimmer wants this football team (to be), and our team is responding very well,” Spielman said. “But, like I said, there is still a lot of growth to go yet. But I can say we are heading in a positive direction.”

The Vikings have been through plenty already, losing their face of the franchise in Adrian Peterson, their veteran starting quarterback, their Pro Bowl tight end and others, yet here they are, more than halfway through the season, looking like they are ready to get Kyle Rudolph and maybe Peterson back and still in position to at least make some noise.

From here, at during during the season, it’s up to Zimmer.

“There’s no excuses, there’s resiliency,” Spielman said of Zimmer.

For the long term, however, to build sustainable success, it will be up to Zimmer and Spielman, a pairing of guys who grew up in football coaching households looking to make the Vikings a household name in the playoff pantheon.


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