Defensive end Brian Robison is entering his eighth season with the Vikings and is coming off a year where he set a career high with nine sacks. And while he knows that it will be hard to replace longtime defensive linemates such as Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, he thinks the defense will be much improved in 2014.

“If you look at it, it’s a totally different defense anyway,” said Robison, who has 39 sacks in his Vikings career. “Regardless of those guys or not, I think we have an opportunity to be a really good defense around here this year. Last year we really struggled in a lot of areas, and I believe this year we’re going to right that ship and hopefully be one of the top defenses in the league.”

Robison explained some of the changes in defensive philosophy under coach Mike Zimmer, changes that were on display in Friday’s 10-6 victory over Oakland at TCF Bank Stadium.

“It’s very aggressive defense. We do a lot of things a lot different than we have done in years past,” Robison said. “We really try to keep the offenses off balance a little bit, not knowing exactly what we’re doing and things like that, disguising our looks. I think it’s going to be really good for us.

“There’s a lot more blitzing in this defense. Hopefully we don’t have to use those blitzes, but obviously there are going to be times in the season where we’ll have to use the blitz in order to get the quarterback. And that’s a good thing, a good wrinkle to have.”

Robison talked about the benefits of having Zimmer, who has a defensive background, as the new coach.

“With our defense, we really have like a two-headed monster with Zimmer and [defensive coordinator] George Edwards,” Robison said. “When you have two guys coming at you like that, a lot of times you get mixed opinions, but they seem to be on the exact same page. You get the same story from both of them, the same techniques from both of them. Having those two guys be very approachable, the way they are, very knowledgeable of the game, the way they are, it’s always a great thing to have.”

And what has been Robison’s opinion of Zimmer’s coaching style this preseason?

“I think you see it about every second that he’s out there — he’s either yelling at someone or pumping them up, saying how good of a job they did, or cussing somebody out,” Robison said. “You get so many different looks from him, it’s crazy. But it’s really a great thing for us. I think guys have really tuned into it, guys really listen to him because he shows so much passion for the game and passion for his players to be successful. It really boosts our morale because we know we have a guy who wants to put us in the best position to be successful.”

Good signs Friday

Robison thought the defense showed good signs in the first preseason game, where the Raiders didn’t score until there were only 85 seconds remaining.

“I thought we did some really good things,” Robison said. “There’s obviously a lot of things we still need to work on and get better at, which is obviously a good thing, being the way we played the other night. But we did some good things and still a few things we need to do a little bit better.

“I just think late in the game we didn’t execute the defense as well, things like that. Those are just the little things we’re talking about. Overall if you look at the picture of stuff guys played hard, ran to the ball, and that’s what you want to see. If we can keep doing that and just do those little things a little bit better, it’s going to make our defense much better in the long run.”

Self praises Wiggins

Kansas’ Bill Self has coached as many great players in his career as anyone in college basketball, and when Self describes Andrew Wiggins, who will come to the Timberwolves in the Kevin Love deal, as the best natural athlete he has ever coached, it means something. Self isn’t a coach who hands out such compliments lightly.

And unless NBA insiders don’t know what they’re talking about, the Wolves will definitely trade the future No. 1 draft choice they receive from the Cavaliers in the Love trade to the 76ers as part of a deal for Thaddeus Young. He might not be as good as Love, but he would be a fine replacement. Young averaged 17.9 points and 6.0 rebounds last season. He can be a free agent after this season, when he will make $9.4 million, and can expect a big raise in the future.

Jottings

• Marcus Sherels, one of the best punt returners in the NFL, didn’t play for the Vikings on Friday, but that doesn’t hurt his chances of keeping his job this season, according to Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer. The former Gophers and Rochester John Marshall athlete has had to earn his way onto the roster each season before this one. “A lot of it is Marcus’ health, obviously, he couldn’t go the other night and hopefully he will be fine. Marcus has earned that job. Obviously, he will feel a little bit of pressure from Adam [Thielen] or any other young returner. But Marcus is the guy that we have relied on so heavily the last three years that we see him to have continued success, I hope.”

• For former Vikings and Ravens center Matt Birk, who starts Monday in his new job with the NFL in public relations working with the younger players, on Saturday was moving from his home in Mendota Heights to New York, where his family will live while he works on his new job. While here for the Vikings game, Birk said that if he is fortunate enough to be bestowed any honors for his long NFL career, he will wear them with Vikings colors after his 11 years with his hometown team.

• Former Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray continues to show improvement as an H-back for the Cleveland Browns. He started Saturday and had two receptions for 51 yards in a 13-12 loss to the Lions on Saturday, and he also made a tackle on special teams. … Former Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen started at free safety in the Bears’ first preseason game, a 34-28 victory over the Eagles, and he was second on the team with five tackles. … Eric Decker had two receptions for 12 yards in his Jets preseason debut.

• Former Vikings cornerback Chris Cook had four tackles and an interception in his debut with the 49ers. … Bryant McKinnie, a Vikings left tackle for nine seasons before playing three seasons with Baltimore and one with Miami, was not re-signed by the Dolphins and is looking for a job.

• One reason the Gophers will redshirt former Minneapolis Washburn running back Jeff Jones, if he is ruled eligible by the NCAA clearinghouse after being admitted to the university, is that the team is loaded with running backs this year but will graduate top two backs David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood after the season. Those two could be replaced by Jones and former Eden Prairie back Anthony Anderson, who will enroll at the U in the future.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com