“This time of year I expect them to be smart. A lot of bad things happen off the field this time of year,” Zimmer said Thursday after the Vikings wrapped up minicamp with a team meeting and team barbeque. “Be smart. I don’t want to get any phone calls about anything. We have a chance to be a good football team if we continue to work, continue to do the things that we do.”
The Vikings haven’t had many off-the-field distractions since Adrian Peterson reported to organized team activities last year after a drawn-out legal battle on allegations of child abuse that were eventually reduced with a no contest plea to reckless assault.
Since then, the Vikings dealt with some injuries that sidelined starters for the 2015 regular season, but they still were able to dethrone the Green Bay Packers as NFC North champions and have plenty of good vibes reverberating this offseason about the direction of the franchise.
Zimmer rewarded the players by cancelling the final minicamp practice on Thursday morning, although players were still required to return to Winter Park for a team barbeque shortly after noon.
“The majority of the football team is all really good guys. They care,” Zimmer said. “I was telling one of the coaches in here our guys love to practice. They’re out here having fun. They’re not in the locker room complaining and talking about how bad I am or how mean I am or things like that. They just go to work. I’m surprised that they’re not sad that we didn’t practice today because they like to practice.”
Rookie receiver Moritz Böhringer said he wanted to practice, but many of the veterans were far from disappointed that practice was cancelled.
“If we had to go out there today, I was excited, but I was more excited that we didn’t have to,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “It was a blessing. I raised my hand like, ‘Thank you!’ But Zimmer, he’s a smart coach; he’s a player’s coach. He knows what we need. We’ve got a lot of guys that are healthy right now and that’s how you want to leave it. We’ve been grinding for, I don’t know, what, two months now.”
Captain Munnerlyn said he felt like Zimmer was about to give the players the day off as he listened to the head coach conduct their morning team meeting, but Xavier Rhodes said the day off was unexpected.
“It was surprising. It was a big surprise,” Rhodes said. “But he knows that we came together as a team, worked hard, did everything right as a team by the Vikings.”
Zimmer said things were productive when the team when through its 10 organized team activities and two minicamp practices. Growing familiarity with the offensive and defensive systems likely helped.
“If we would have been crummy I wouldn’t have canceled it, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I told them today that I appreciate the way they go about their business. They’re dedicated to being a good football team. They didn’t believe me at first. They were like, ‘Did he say go practice or no practice?’ They sat up there for a little while and they weren’t sure, thought it was a joke or a trick.”
Zimmer’s defensive system employed by coordinator George Edwards has been in place since the coaching staff was assembled in January 2014, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner has had his system in place in Minnesota since then, too. That growing familiarity with the schemes likely helped get the team to the point where Zimmer felt like a cancelled practice was feasible.
While he was largely pleased with the offseason, it wasn’t perfect.
“We had too many penalties in practice, too many presnap penalties and things like that,” Zimmer said. “… I think the competition between the offense and the defense was good. I think we got a lot of work done with the special teams. I think we’re ready to go to Mankato.”