It’s been a long time since fans last saw the Vikings together as a group, but during that time expectations have been rising. As head coach Mike Zimmer is preparing his troops for the football battles ahead in 2015, he’s looking at changing some things up in training camp this season.
At Saturday’s training camp arrival press conference, Zimmer said that things are going to be a little different in his second training camp with the Vikings.
“We’re changing a little bit. We’re changing the amount of reps we do and some of the periods, we’re adding some things there,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to do a little bit more of some inside run deals that I think are important for us to continue to preach the toughness and the mentality that I want for this football team. Other than that, it’s not too much – same format, basically.”
One thing that has changed significantly is how Zimmer is entering the 2015 training camp. The last time he was in Mankato, the changes he was proposing were more rhetorical than anything else. A year later, Zimmer believes he and General Manager Rick Spielman are much more on the same page in terms of understanding what personnel is needed to make Zimmer’s defense and Norv Turner’s offense work and how the roster will be shaped at the end of the preseason.
“I feel good about understanding the communication between Rick and myself, the expectations of the fans,” Zimmer said. “There’s so many things that you don’t realize your first time going through and how tough the job is in a lot of different ways, but I feel much more comfortable in knowing the players better and knowing the setup better. So it’s exciting. It’s just as exciting this year as it was last year. Maybe more so.”
Zimmer brought a sense of excitement among fans last year because he promised change and his track record of success developing defensive players proved that – the primary reason he was hired was because the Vikings defense allowed more points than any other team in the league in 2013. Zimmer’s first season saw the defense transform from the bottom of the league to the middle of the pack with the defense trending upward.
One of his biggest hurdles this year will be to temper expectations of players and fans. Nothing is going to be handed to the Vikings. While many believe the Vikings have a chance to be a legitimate playoff contender, Zimmer is trying to tap the brakes on getting too confident because they’re going to have to earn it.
“I’ve been on both ends,” Zimmer said of expectations. “I’ve been on teams that have had high expectations and didn’t perform up to expectations. I’ve been on teams that have had low expectations and exceeded them. I kind of take it with a grain of salt. I believe that no team that has played in a temporary stadium has gone to the playoffs, so we’ve got that going against us. We’ve got other things. We were 7-9 last year. I remind the team of these things. But the thing I keep telling the team is if we go out here in this parking lot and we play better than everybody else, we’ll win the football game. If we’re the smarter team on Sunday, if we’re the tougher team on Sunday, if we take care of the ball better, if we execute better, we’ll do those things, so it’s nice to have people say nice things about you, but at the end of the day if you don’t go out there and work, which we have to do during practice, if we don’t go out there and work the way that we have to in the games and be on point with everything that we need to do, then they’ll be saying the exact opposite very quickly.”
GUARD BATTLE COMING IN CAMPOne of the talking points of training camp will be the ongoing battle for the starting spots at guard. Entering camp, Plan A appears to be moving Brandon Fusco to left guard and inserting rookie T.J. Clemmings on the right side, but Zimmer said it is still a work a progress that will develop over the next month or so.
“We’re going to continue to look at that and evaluate it,” Zimmer said. “The first four days we’re not going to move anybody around. We’re going to leave them where they’re at, and you’ll just have to see where guys line up at first. We’re going to leave them alone until we get to the first day off with the players’ day off and then we’ll talk about it some more and then we’ll work through the things. But we want guys to start feeling comfortable and not worrying about, ‘I’m a right guard this play, and I’m a left guard later on in the practice,’ so I think it’s important for us that we settle it down, we get guys comfortable and then we get moving.”
THE PRICE ISN’T RIGHTOne player who will be using training camp to solidify his spot on the roster is cornerback Jabari Price. He was arrested in December 2014 on a DUI charge (pleaded down to reckless driving) and will serve a suspension to start the 2015 season.
Last year, the Vikings had a similar situation with wide receiver Jerome Simpson. He played extensively through the preseason, but after his suspension ended, he was released by the Vikings. Zimmer said that there are responsibilities that come along with being a player and that Price needs to prove himself or he could end up going the same route as other Vikings who have run afoul of the law.
“It doesn’t change really much,” Zimmer said. “We’re disappointed first of all in what happened there, and we’re trying to clean up all those kind of things off the field with the Vikings. We’re trying to make this a team that our fans respect. We’re trying to make this a team that our fans are proud of, and to have things like that happen are not good and extremely disappointing, but it won’t change that part about him much.”
HELLO, NEWMANOne of the players Zimmer is looking forward to seeing on the practice field in Mankato is veteran cornerback Terence Newman. He worked with Newman as a young player in Dallas and veteran in Cincinnati and, although Newman has a lot of miles on his NFL odometer, Zimmer sees him as a being a player who can make a big contribution to the Vikings defense.
“Working with Terence is great,” Zimmer said. “He’s number one a first-class individual. He’s very, very intelligent. I know this was a while ago, but he was a 60-meter Big 12 champion. So he’s always had great speed, athletic ability, tremendous heart, tremendous courage, and I’ve always had a great deal of respect for him. Knock on wood, everywhere he’s ever been with me, he’s always played very well. So I anticipate that he’ll do the same here.”