Mike Zimmer left the Minnesota Vikings’ preseason opener with a generally good feeling about his defense played, even if most of the snaps were taken by backups.
But in judging one of the positions that encompasses a heated battle for playing time, middle linebacker, the Vikings could rotate generously based on the situation and the skill set of the players.
“It could be. But that’s kind of how it was for us last year a little bit, situation-based as well,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to try to use each player to their strength as best we can and however we have to do it.”
Entering the third week of training camp, Audie Cole has taken the majority of the first-team snaps in the starting base defense. Cole started and played 15 snaps in Sunday night’s 14-3 preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He finished with three tackles and a forced fumble.
“We may have to substitute some guys in there in certain situations, but Audie did a good job the other night. There’s something to be said about having tall linebackers,” Zimmer said. “He tipped that one ball and it ended up getting caught, but when guys are 6-4 – you’ve got him and (Anthony) Barr in there – you’ve got two big linebackers. It’s hard to throw in the seams. Big guys that can run have a little bit more punch to them than little guys that can run.”
It may be getting harder to find those big linebackers with athleticism, but that’s one of the reasons the Vikings were bullish on drafting Anthony Barr ninth overall last year.
“With today’s NFL, there’s so much throwing they have to have some coverage ability. That’s why Barr is so unique because he can do those things, plus he can pass rush,” Zimmer said.
Their first linebacker selection this year was Eric Kendricks, taken 45th overall out of UCLA and a former teammate of Barr’s. Kendricks is only 6 feet and 232 pounds, but his ability to run is one of the things the draft decision-makers liked about him.
However, his speed has to be harnessed at times.
“(He needs) to be a little bit more patient. He wants to go get there so fast that sometimes he overruns things,” Zimmer said. “He can be a little bit more patient. He needs to just settle down and do what he can do. That’s really it, just settling down and feeling more comfortable.”
TUESDAY MORNING NOTES
Other areas Zimmer liked: He said they tackled well and played fast.
Areas for improvement: Three penalties on CB Trae Waynes, having 10 players on the field for an extra point that caused the Vikings to burn a timeout, and efficiency in the red zone, third downs and short-yardage situations.
“Overall for the first time out, there was some things that you can really like,” Zimmer said.