Head Coach Mike Zimmer and a few Vikings players talked to the media after their mini camp session, Wednesday:
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
You know we made this team meeting room for you so it’ll be a little bit easier for you, taking care of you all the time. We’ve had two walk throughs now and a practice and the guys are doing a good job concentrating, studying, learning what we’re trying to do, the principles that we’re trying to teach them. I’ve been impressed with their work ethic. We’ve got everybody here, so that’s always a good thing. They are all paying attention, the coaches are doing a good job and it’s good to go. I’m excited to watch the [Minnesota] Wild tonight, so let’s play hockey.
Q: How do you begin to implement a system? And what’s the process of going through that in the first week?
A: Well we start at the basics, we start with fundamentals. For us there is always a starting point where we begin and then from there we progress at different speeds based on how fast they catch on or at least defensively. Offensively they are going a little bit faster pace than what we are defensively. What I don’t want to do is watch them out here on the practice field, and I told them yesterday that we are not only doing all of this learning schemes, but we are evaluating them how they practice, how they learn, how they move and things like that. What we try to do is get to a point where they’re not thinking so much that they’re not being athletes when they’re out on the field, so once they play starts they just are athletic and then we can see them as coaches and kind of figure out what this guy does and you know we don’t want to be instant evaluators, but we did yesterday as coaches. We got together and we talked about different things and kind of visions for the players and what we think they can do and how we can use them in different ways and that process will continue on throughout OTAs and until we get to training camp.
Q: What have you seen from Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder? What are you goals to see from them this spring?
A: Well, I want to see somebody that can lead the football team number one, guys that can execute under pressure, guys that can lead us in the 4th quarter when the game is on the line, but also make sure that they know what everybody else is doing and kind of be the extension of Norv [Turner] when we are out on the field.
Q: What is your definition of a great quarterback based on what you’ve seen?
A: You know I think that the quarterback has to be a leader. He has to be the tough guy, obviously he has to have the physical skills but I’m talking more about the other abilities, a guy that wants to put the game on his shoulders and at the end take it and win it. So to me those things are really important. Obviously they need to have the arm strength and the mental quickness to make quick decisions and a lot of that is with the quarterback too. You’ve got guys that can go out there and throw the ball today in 7-on-7 but when the bullets start flying they have to be able to keep everything slowed down, get guys in the right place and then deliver the ball to the right people.
Q: With so many new guys coming in at one time, is the more of let’s get the chemistry together?
A: Well I think it’s all a process of everything there. Part of the reason why we are lifting together as a team as opposed to individually is we are working on the chemistry there. We are working on the chemistry when we meet in this room that you all are sitting in right now. We meet in here together so we can talk to the defensive line and the linebackers hear what we’re saying and the secondary hears what the defensive end is being told. So the chemistry part is going to continue being an ongoing process and I do believe that what we preach, they’ll eventually buy into so those are the things that are trying to chemistry wise. As far as on the field, we’re trying to see what they can do. They’re trying to understand the system and then we go from there.
Q: How are you guys doing from an injury perspective?
A: Actually we’re doing great. Adrian [Peterson] is doing fantastic, he practiced yesterday. He’s been here, he’s been in good spirits. The rest of the guys are doing well. I really don’t want to talk about any of the injuries at this point in time. Other than Adrian, I’ll talk about him, he’s doing great.
Q: What did you say that you wanted the team to walk away with when you met as a group?
A: Well I had a message to them the first day about raising our expectations, about kind of players that we want on the football team, how we want to represent the community – the state of Minnesota and the Twin Cities. I talked to them about things that are important to me not only as far as football players but off the field also, so basically that.
Q: What’s the most important part?
A: The weight room is important for one thing. I told them the weight room is important to me and I expect them to be in there and getting stronger and bigger and physical and some of those things. The rest of it is honestly probably between me and them for the most part. You know I believe, and I’ve talked to some people about this, I want to be as honest as I can to you people in here. I never want to have to lie to you. I want to be as honest as I possibly can but in the same token I have the football team that I have to respect too and I have to make sure that what I say to them is sometimes private with us too. I hope you appreciate those kinds of things.
Q: Are you an open-door policy kind of coach where you will listen to positives and negatives from players?
A: Oh yeah. That’s not a problem whatsoever. It doesn’t mean I’ll agree with them at the either. I’m a fairly opinionated person and my job at the end of the day is to get the best out of the players that I possibly can. It’s not about who wins the argument or anything like that. Sometimes when you’re aggressive, there’s confrontation that happens. I’m not afraid of confrontation and hopefully they players won’t be too when we get ready to go play football games. Pat Riley had a quote that said, “discipline is not a nasty word,” so we are going to try and be disciplined.
Q: Is there potential this week for your evaluations to have an influence on the draft?
A: Well yeah I think so. I think we’ll sit down after these last few days because you always anticipate kind of what you have on tape but you don’t really know. You don’t know how a guy thinks, how he reacts, what kind of player he is under pressure, the best way to coach him is. Sometimes the best way is to put your arm around him and sometimes how he reacts to different situations so there is a possibility that all can change. It won’t change how we have players ranked, it just may put us in more of a position of well you know we probably need this position a little bit more than that position.
Q: As you’ve gone through the research on the quarterbacks, how has it meshed with you and Norv coming from two different perspectives?
A: Well you know Norv is the expert at the quarterbacks, he always has been. I think like everything else in this building there are experts that are better at certain things than I am. Now my input is more about what kind of player he is, what kind of worker he is, what kind of things does he bring as a leader as a team and Norv is more about the technical things and then we sit down and talk about what we think about what is the best for us.
Q: How much of what you bring is having to defend guys?
A: I know what things are harder to defend, but Norv knows what they can do better than I do. I think it’s a good combination to have. But I would silly if I didn’t use all of the resources that I have here and Norv has, for 30 years, been not only a great offensive coordinator and head coach but a great quarterback coach, just like I would be silly not to listen to Bob Hagan with the public relations. Obviously, as you’ve seen me speak, he’s way better at this stuff than I am.
Q: How much impact have you had in the draft in terms of the skillset you want to see them take? Or what’s your role there?
A: You’d have to ask Rick [Spielman] how much input I’d have but I think we work together, we’ve sat up in that meeting room for 10-12 straight days and gone over different things. I always give my input. I don’t hold my feelings back so I’m going to go ahead and say what I think but I do believe that even the things I say, what I’m looking for in a player, it may not be that position but it might just be what I’m looking for in people and what kind of height and size and weight and strength and so on and so forth, personalities. I think a lot of that goes into it but saying that again, the scouts go out and watch these guys all year long from the time they’re juniors, or sophomores in a lot of these cases, and I get to see them on tape three times, talk to them in Indianapolis, watch them run around in underwear and then bring them in and talk to them again. Again, I feel like they’re much more experts on these kinds of things more than I am even though my input is, “This guy I like.” Now there are some things that I may be more of an expert in because that’s what I do every day. With Rick and the scouts, and I’ve been extremely impressed with all of those guys. As far as the relationship and I know this so you’ll always question, “How are you doing with the GM?” We’re fantastic. He’s a good guy, he’s a little bit like me, he’s a little bit sarcastic at times and we give each other a hard time but we really respect each other while we are there and when we come out of the room we are going to come out of the room together.
Q: Were you and Rick always on the same page with using the free agency period mainly on defense?
A: We were on the same page. We knew that we were going to lose some players in free agency, or anticipated losing some players in free agency and if that would happen we had to replace them. We felt like there were some areas that we needed to improve in and we always want to build through the draft. We don’t want to be a free agency football team. We want to build through the draft and we want to continue to do that.
Q: How have you seen guys adjust to what you are trying to do on defense?
A: They are learning. It’s a process for them. It’s a lot of new things, new terminology, new calls, I’m assuming they are being coached differently, I know I’m coaching them probably like they haven’t been coached before. I think all of that is new for them. I’ve been very impressed with a lot of the guys and with a lot of guys it’s slower to pick up. You can’t base on one practice that this one guy is going to be a great player in one practice because as I said we are moving on and trying to keep improving. Our big goal from this camp, I told the players, is we’re trying to start the process here where we can keep improving to where we can build a great football team. I don’t care about individuals, I care about a team. I’ve always believed that the more we can get guys in as a team and play good then we have the better chance of winning.
Q: What’s been your approach to running a practice so far as a head coach in terms of balancing the offense and defense?
A: You know I keep straying over the defense a little bit. I spent a lot of time yesterday with the defensive backs because I do feel like I’m an expert in that area and I took them in a meeting today and went through tape with the defensive backs and that’s what I do. I think I’m fairly good at it and so I’m going to try to use my abilities to the best I can. I get around the offense as much as I can, but at this stage where I’m at right now, I just feel like I have to spend more time with the defense. I have to be in the meetings with the defense, run the meetings actually, and coach. That’s what I am, I’m a coach. Just because I’m the head coach doesn’t mean you stop coaching. It means you coach everybody but you still do the best job you can to get guys better.
Q: Have you heard from guys that they’re doing a lot of new things that they haven’t done before?
A: I really haven’t asked them. I’ve asked some of the offensive guys, “How’s it going?” and things like that. They said the terminology is different and their heads are spinning a little bit right now. Defensive guys, I just kind of let them figure it out.
Q: What’s your timeline for installation?
A: You know I don’t know if we have a timeline. I think that offensively what they are trying to do is put a lot of things in and then find out what we can do really good and then go back and do that. Defensively what we are trying to do is move at a pace where we feel comfortable that they understand it very well and then we move onto something else. We may not be as complicated in some areas defensively that we were at the end of when I was in Cincinnati, but I anticipate that we’ll probably get to that point before our first ballgame.
Q: How would you describe the partnership that you have with Norv Turner?
A: It’s been fantastic. Really, it really has. We were talking about some things for the new stadium, the architecture a little bit. Mark Wilf asked for a little of our input on some of the things and Norv said, “well you know we had it like this and we are able to do that.” And I’ll go in there and talk to him about different things schematically. We talk about the quarterbacks all the time. I talk to him about the offense. He comes in my office and asks me questions. I understand that I’m the head coach and I don’t want to be separate from everybody else. I talk about it being a team and that’s what I want, I want to build a team whether it’s the coaches, the organization, the players. I don’t know everything that there is to know about a lot of things but the more experts that I can get help from I want to do it. When I was a young coordinator I used to go around to all of the defensive coordinators in the league to find out what we can do better, what kinds of things. I’m not so egotistical to say, “You know what, I know all of the answers,” and all of this other stuff. I want to be the best at what I do but I want to take input. I’ve talked to other coaches in the NFL about things, I’ve talked to other guys that have been head coaches about things. It is a learning process for me but I’m willing to listen to other people and then make decisions based on the information that I get, the input.
Q: Rick Spielman said that deciding to pick a quarterback at No. 8 is torturous. Do you agree? How has that process gone?
A: I understand what Rick was saying about it being torturous and it’s a hard decision anytime you take any of the guys. That’s what he’s the expert in. But I look at it as an opportunity also. It’s an opportunity to get that pick right, whether it’s the quarterback at 8 or in the 7th round. I look at all of those things that way. It’s an opportunity for us to get better as a football team. You should ask him what torturous means. I think it’s an opportunity for the Minnesota Vikings to get better.
Q: How is the new coaching staff?
A: Can’t stand them, but I’m here [laughs]. It’s just the nature of the beast. They’ve been great, top to bottom, starting with Coach Zim [Mike Zimmer]. Just his presence, the way he carries himself, he’s not one of those raw raw guys who’s going to do a lot of talking, he’s going to put a lot of action behind what he’s speaking. It’s one of those deals where accountability is priority number one. He’s going to make sure everyone is this building, including himself, is accountable for what they bring to the table and what expectations are for this organization.
Q: How big of an adjustment is that between coaching staffs?
A: It’s definitely an adjustment. You get a lot of guys, most guys, almost every guy, it’s almost like being a rookie all over again, not knowing what to expect from a personality standpoint. You get those team meetings that start at 9:00 but everybody is in their chair at 8:55 just to kind of gauge and feel out the new staff. That’s going to happen, but I’m impressed with not only what they bring to the table from just being upstairs and the dynamic from coaches to coaches, but the coaching to player relationship as far on the field actually coaching, you see very few head coaches being as involved as Coach Zim is. I think that’s because of his track record. He’s been a defensive coordinator so he’s also had to be involved so he’s not going to be that stand back head coach and not be engaged. He’s going to be an active participant and very transparent with his guys to a certain extent. And the same goes with Coach [Norv] Turner. I’ve been highly impressed with the way they’re coaching guys. It does not matter who you are, they are going to get the best out of every player in that locker room.
Q: What excites you about being a receiver in Norv’s system?
A: Everybody is going to have an opportunity to showcase what they do. That’s one of the things he’s spoken highly upon within our group. He’s going to showcase what we do well as individual receivers, as well as a unit. I think that’s all you can ask for when you’re playing a position where you don’t get to dictate what happens. All you can do is run your route and run it to the best of your ability and hope that you get opportunities to make plays. What Coach Turner is bringing to the table there are going to be a lot of guys who will have a ton of opportunities to make plays. And if you look at his track record, the receivers and tight ends that he’s had, and the running backs, they’ve all fared very, very well in this offense.
Q: What’s been your biggest focus so far this offseason?
A: Just my knowledge. I want to come in totally different this year. I want to learn everything this year. Last year I was just playing X and I want to play everything this year so if coach needs me or someone goes down I can be that guy.
Q: After such a successful rookie year, how do you go into an offseason not being satisfied with what you did?
A: You can never be too satisfied. Last year was last year. It’s a different year. I talk to my family about stuff like that all the time. They want me to be great, they don’t just want me to be a great football player, they want me to be great off the field. I listen to my family, friends, coaches, teammates and just let that stick in my head and just go with it.
Q: Did last year teach you to have more confidence in yourself moving forward?
A: I’m always a confident guy on and off the field. I just want to be great. You always want to be great as a person. Greg [Jennings] told me that a lot coming in as a rookie that I have more confidence than anyone he knows. I just like to set the tone for myself and my teammates.
Q: Greg said this year’s offense will be more complex than last year’s, do you agree with that?
A: Yeah, it’s totally different than last year. It’s going to be tough, but us guys we are going to work together and we are going to be with each other. We’ll have to come early in the morning and leave late after practice. We are going to be with each and we’re going to get it done.
Q: Have you looked at what receivers have done with Norv in the past?
A: Of course. I had the opportunity to talk to Josh Gordon over at the Pro Bowl and he told me, ‘You got my coach. He’s going to get you the ball and it just won’t be you, everybody on the team, the running back, the tight ends. Everybody is going to be involved.’ When you hear good guys like that saying good things about our offensive coordinator it’s a blessing.
Q: Was last year more than you expected coming in as a rookie? Are you scratching the surface?
A: Coming in as a rookie I don’t think you know what to expect. I don’t think my work ethic was good enough last year so this year my whole mindset coming in is ‘You got to work. You got to know everything. You got to do better than you did last year.’ I lean on that. My work ethic, I think it was kind of bad last year so this year it’s going to be way better.
Q: How did you come to that realization about your work ethic?
A: It’s you, you have to know it yourself. I was looking at film of me last year just seeing how I didn’t finish in practice. Coach Zimmer set the tempo high yesterday and everything was going great. With my work ethic in the offseason everything has improved in that little bit of time.
Q: What kind of adjustments have you made with the new coaching staff?
A: It obviously makes you excited coming out here seeing the way the guys are working, but not only that, seeing the coaches. It’s a totally different atmosphere than where it was last year. Guys are yelling. I actually told Coach [George] Edwards today I said, ‘When I’m in my stance I feel like I should yell something because everyone else is yelling something.’ It’s definitely a different attitude. It’s one of those deals where you can obviously see where we can be a great team because of the way that they are coaching us and the way that they are really showing a lot of emotion on the field and it’s great to be a part of.
Q: Are they asking you guys to do a lot of different things? Is there a pretty big change that way?
A: They’re testing us. There’s no doubt about it, they’re definitely testing us. They are putting in a lot of stuff to see how quickly we can memorize those types of things, how we play on the run, very fast tempo during practice. Those type of deals not only put physical strain on you but mentally. That’s what we need. We need to be able to really push ourselves and try to see where that threshold is for us.
Q: Can you get a sense of the different responsibilities you’ll have on the line?
A: You can definitely get a sense of it. It’s similar to what we’ve done in the past, but a lot different, if that means anything to you [laughs]. It’s one of those deals where we’re playing things a lot different. Some of the times we have the same responsibilities, but the way we get to it is a little bit different. I think it honestly will help our defense tremendously because Coach [Andre] Patterson, our D line coach, has done a great job of bringing in a different mindset as far as how to rush the passer. What keys to look for and how to play those things. Things that will help us build on what we’re doing now during the season, but correct the things we didn’t do last season.
Q: What’s it like being the Dean of the defensive line group?
A: It’s different, definitely. You go from a year where you got Jared [Allen] and Kevin [Williams] in your room and all of the sudden you’re the old guy. You never want to be called the old guy. I had my birthday on Sunday and I thought I was going to come in here on Monday and I was going to have a walker in front of my locker or something. It’s one of those deals where you really have to step up your leadership role, lead by example, be a little bit more of vocal leader. But at the same time you don’t get to proclaim yourself a leader. The guys have to think of you as a leader. That’s what I’m trying to do now, lead by example and hopefully guys will follow and do the right thing.