Sunday slant: Zimmer’s standards don’t waver

Mike Zimmer refuses to celebrate preseason wins, focusing instead on the process of getting the Minnesota Vikings where he wants them.

Mike Zimmer left Saturday night’s 20-12 win with a 7-0 preseason record. Yeah, preseason. And, yay, preseason!

Don’t expect Zimmer to celebrate his record, either.

At the mention that he was 5-0 in the preseason after his win in the 2015 Hall of Fame Game, he said he wished it was 5-0 in the regular. Zimmer is no-nonsense, hardly one to accept platitudes when he sees mistakes all over the field few others recognized.

He won’t accept wins, especially in the preseason, without warnings about all the things his players could do better.

“Really, all I do look for is how we play, the performance that we give, the things we’re doing, if we’re doing things right or wrong, because I think that will tell you more about your football team than the preseason record,” Zimmer said his Minnesota Vikings beat the Oakland Raiders Saturday night in a rain-soaked, weather-delayed outing.

Before that, after his second preseason win this year, he recalled a final practice at the Mankato portion of training camp when he wasn’t pleased with the pace of practice, made the players run around the goal post and then called practice early because of his disgust.

“The three fumbles (against Tampa Bay) were about the same as Mankato, I thought. We had a couple of silly penalties that we have got to get fixed,” he said. “We have to stop doing these kind of things if we’re going to be a good football team, but I think overall we do what we normally do. We play hard, we play with good technique, for the most part.”

The Vikings did better against the Raiders. They had only one penalty for 10 yards while the Raiders had 13 for 106 yards. Still, the Vikings lost a fumble, threw an interception and had miscommunication on at least one route with Cordarrelle Patterson.

The injury negatives have started already. Anthony Barr, perhaps the Vikings’ best defensive player, wasn’t able to play the first two preseason games but returned Saturday night. Phil Loadholt was lost for the season. So was (likely) a backup offensive tackle, Carter Bykowksi.

Zimmer doesn’t want the injuries, but he doesn’t accept pity parties either.

“It’s not just this team, it’s my expectations of whoever I’m coaching, really. But I do think this team has ability,” he said about bouncing back from injury adversity. “I think we’re faster than we were a year ago, I think we’re stronger than we were a year ago, I think we’re smarter than we were a year ago, although it’s not where we want to be yet, but I do think the guys feel more comfortable. All of those things that you do. My expectations are always pretty high and what I want us to look like.”

What Zimmer wants is discipline on the field. Fans and media see Antone Exum making plays, intercepting a pass and recovering a fumble. Zimmer sees, well, meh.

“I know everybody gets all caught up in the interception he had and the fumble recovery he had, but there’s 118 more plays in a ball game, that’s what I’m concerned about, those kind of things,” Zimmer said. “Can you be consistent, can you do things right, can you make the calls, can you make the checks, can you be in the right position, can you make tackles? The interception was an overthrow and the fumble, somebody else got and he dove on it. Those are not difficult plays for me.”

That likely means the more consistent player cracks the starting lineup next to Harrison Smith. That probably means another year of Robert Blanton.

Zimmer already worked the secondary into an improved unit last year. This year, the run defense needs to show similar improvement, but to date that’s still up in the air.

“It was a little bit of a concern, because you don’t want to start it like that. We had the point of attack taken care of on most of them and they were just cutbacks, we just over-pursued a little bit,” Zimmer said about a Doug Martin run in the second preseason game. “I like how we’re going with the run defense right now. I think we’ll get some of these things cleaned up and go from there.”

Zimmer said he decided to give the defensive line more freedom, but that could be causing bigger holes for the running backs. If that continues, that policy is likely to be rescinded.

The Vikings are 3-0 in the preseason this year, but Zimmer isn’t concerned with the record. He’s concerned with plenty more. On Saturday the glaring, repetitive mistakes occurred in the kicking game. Blair Walsh missed three field goals and an extra point.

“A lot of things concern me, not just that,” Zimmer said. “Not covering the out-route, that concerns me. Over-running balls, that concerns me. Not running the ball near as well as we should be offensively, that concerns me.”

As early as the NFL Scouting Combine, Zimmer refused to accept any sort of congratulations after surviving the season with Adrian Peterson out, losing his starting quarterback in Matt Cassel and two starting offensive linemen, and then getting the performance that Patterson provided. None of that mattered to Zimmer as much as it did the fans. He wants to win, no matter the circumstances.

Only a month after surviving his first obstacle-filled season, he was ready to get back at it, anxious to show his players what went wrong (on the field) and how a 7-9 record could have been better.

This year, that same standard is held to each individual player. Some smile and shake their heads, signaling no, when asked if they get much positive feedback from Zimmer. He’ll give plenty of feedback, but it’s usually correcting mistakes, in technique, game strategy or decision-making.

He might be the modern-day, no-nonsense Bud Grant without the talent base built up to the glory years that Grant enjoyed. Maybe they will never get there with free agency and big money pulling players their own directions, but Zimmer’s standards won’t bend.

“I have such high expectations of what I want this team to look like that it’s important that we get these things corrected to me,” Zimmer said, “because we have a chance to be a good team.”

In Zimmer’s mind, they aren’t there yet.


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