With a 4-7 record, head coach Mike Zimmer isn’t about to shift his focus to the future … at least not yet. His attention remains squarely on winning more games and developing his system. For now, that might be the right move. Shifting to the future too quickly would lose the veteran players, some of which Zimmer will have to depend upon again next year.
Still, the Vikings would have to win their last five consecutive games to end up with a winning record in Zimmer’s first year as a head coach.
“I’m just not one of those kind of guys where it’s the eighth round and I’m throwing the towel in and we’re going to put in some other puncher,” Zimmer said. “I’m fighting for 10.”
In this case, it’s a 16-round fight. Zimmer will fight to the end, but the names continue to change because of injury, and eventually the evaluations on the youth will have to be made. The more information they have for those decisions, the better off their future will be.
With five games to play, the Vikings are four games behind the Packers (who have also beaten Minnesota twice), 3½ games behind the Lions (who have a win in hand against the Vikings) and one game behind the Bears (who have also beaten the Vikings) in the NFC North. Overall, the Vikings are in 11th place in a six-team chase for the NFC playoffs.
In other words, their chances are closer to “none” than “slim,” but Zimmer isn’t just going to look toward the future yet – and the fact that he is already playing a very young lineup doesn’t give him many options to change out playing time of the veterans for the younger players.
“For me, it’s way too early to think about next year and things like that. I want to play good for our fans,” he said. “I’m still trying to build this team the way I want it to be and just because we have some losses doesn’t mean we step back and re-evaluate where we are at and what we’re doing. I see these guys every day at practice so if I don’t have a decent idea of what a lot of them can do then I’m not watching close enough.”
Rookies like Anthony Barr, Teddy Bridgewater and Jerick McKinnon have seen plenty of playing time and gotten enough starts to have a trend on what they might be in the future. But further down the draft board are rookies that would be good to see.
What can DE Scott Crichton and G David Yankey do? Crichton has barely played and Yankey, whom Zimmer said a few weeks ago needs to get stronger, hasn’t even been active yet.
Can CB Jabari Price, at 5-foot-11, offer the Vikings another viable big cornerback when needed for opponents like the Chicago Bears, who posted up Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery against the 5-foot-9 Josh Robinson. Robinson has been better this year, but it’s almost unfair to ask him out-jump Marshall or Jeffery when they have him boxed out with about a six-inch height advantage on single coverage.
Of course, Zimmer still wants to get all the players used to his system, so eschewing playing time for veterans who will be around next year wouldn’t make sense in some instances. They are, after all, still getting used to – to some degree – the systems in place with new coordinators and schemes on offense and defense.
Zimmer said you never can tell how long it will take a team to have the techniques and schemes taught by new coaches become second habit for the players.
“We as coaches are trying to put our stamp on it however we can and we’re continually trying to improve what we can do and keep getting better all of the time,” he said. “You never know how long something is going to take. But it’s all about getting wins and that’s all I care about is trying to win. I don’t care about anything else.”
Even a veteran like Ben Tate, who just joined the team last week after being acquired on waivers, needs to get some time to get an evaluation of his skills fitting in with Turner’s scheme. This week, with McKinnon not expected to play against the Carolina Panthers, would be an ideal scenario to split time between promising second-year back Joe Banyard and Tate. The coaches already know what they have with Matt Asiata.
The time may not be quite right in Zimmer’s estimation, but the injuries are mounting and the veterans are finding the training room with greater frequency. Soon it will be time to get the rookies who haven’t played much on the field with greater frequency.
“It’s one good thing about Norv is he’s had a lot of assistants so he can tell you a lot about a lot of guys,” Zimmer said, referring to Turner’s four decades in the NFL. “I know that he has a great deal of respect for Ron, as do I. His defenses were always good when he was a coordinator, everywhere he’s been.”
“You’d have to ask him, but I would say that he probably would hope to have more of an impact than what he has, but that’s really a good thing to be honest with you,” Zimmer said. “He’s not satisfied.”
“It’s just mindset really,” Zimmer said. “Really and truly it’s just about getting out and making sure guys when they’re wearing different clothes and different things they have a better feel for how they’re going to move and that stuff. And really, honestly it’s about a mindset to me. We don’t care what it’s like, we’re going.”
The specialists did spend some time practicing outdoors this week.