Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said things are progressing nicely with the team being so active in free agency.
“Everything’s going on a whirlwind,” said Zimmer, “and we’re starting to get our feet on the ground and continue running.”
The Vikings have improved the defensive personnel immensely. The addition of Giants nose tackle Linval Joseph, cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox, along with the re-signing of defensive end Everson Griffen, has been a great start for Zimmer’s defense.
And after filling some of the defensive holes, there is a better chance of the Vikings taking a quarterback with their eighth pick in the first round. But with the re-signing of veteran Matt Cassel, it’s still a long shot that they’ll take one first because Zimmer said they still need defensive help.
“We have to make sure we get everybody on the same page,” Zimmer said. “We have to make sure that we understand everything that is going on. We have to play real hard. I think there are holes at every level of the defense that we’re going to have to get better at.”
Zimmer was asked if there was a specific plan in place to improve the team’s defense late in games, where the Vikings lost several close contests in 2013.
“I don’t know what those situations were, but we’re going to try to do a great job of coaching situation football and make sure that the players understand what causes them to lose games and what causes them to win games,” he said.
Quarterback is key
Zimmer was a big fan of re-signing Cassel.
“He’s really excited to be here,’’ Zimmer said. ‘‘I’m also excited to get him on the field, get him working, see the things that he’s really good at and fit the system around him and everybody else, really.”
Zimmer also said he is curious to see what Christian Ponder brings to the table.
“I’m actually excited to see Ponder,” Zimmer said. “I want to see him come here and compete, and I want to see him work out in the field and see him show me all the athletic ability that he has. I think it will be a great time when we get him out there on the field.”
Zimmer made it clear he isn’t giving up on Ponder.
“I’m not,” he said. “I’m actually excited about him, and hopefully he can prove me right.”
Keys going forward
Zimmer said that there still will be a huge transition for the Vikings, with a new staff and many new players coming in.
“I think any time there’s change [in coaches] you’re going to have a lot of different system changes for you, and we have to improve in some of the areas,” he said. “We’re going to try to be a little bit more man-to-man coverage in the back end, so we’re going to try to look for some more man-coverage players. With the division that we’re playing in we’re going to need some guys that can cover with linebackers and pass rush guys. That is part of the area we need to improve on. Offensively I feel good about a lot of the different pieces that we have.”
Zimmer said another player who may help the Vikings at linebacker is free agent Jasper Brinkley, who played for Arizona last year after starting for the Vikings in 2012.
“He did have a good year in Arizona,” said Zimmer. “He plays real hard, plays smart, has some good toughness about him. We’re excited to have him.”
Zimmer had the advantage of having scouted the Vikings offense when the Bengals beat them 42-14 last season.
“I was nervous about them,” he said. “Obviously a great running back that they have and the skill that they have at receiver and tight end. I thought the offensive line was solid, and so you know every week is a different week in the NFL, but we were lucky enough that day to play pretty good.”
Does he think this club can compete next year after a 5-10-1 record in 2013?
“I do, I think, once we add the pieces,’’ Zimmer said. ‘‘Rick Spielman and I and all of the scouts are working real hard at all this. If we can get the right pieces in and stay healthy and have a little bit of luck, we have a chance to have a lot of success.
“I feel good about the offense. The offensive line, we have most of them returning. We have an excellent tight end in Kyle Rudolph. We’ve got some great skill players on the outside. We’re excited about some of the young receivers also. Also obviously Adrian [Peterson] will be a big benefit to us, too.”
So how does Zimmer feel about his first stint as a head coach so far?
“It feels good,” he said. “It hasn’t been overwhelming.”
• Jerry Kill was asked his impression in spring practice of junior college linebacker Cody Poock. “Wow, this kid is going to be pretty good,” Kill said. “He’s very good in special teams and is going to be a very, very good linebacker. He has great instincts, still has much to learn, but he’ll hit you now, and he’s physical and can run. So that was a big deal for us.”
• Toby Gerhart was paid $1 million last season as a part of his original Vikings rookie contract. His new contract with Jacksonville calls for three years and a total of $10.5 million.
• Lou Nanne was asked if it’s hard to be away from high school hockey because after his grandson Tyler graduates he won’t have any more family members playing: “No, because I’ve had the good fortune of having a grandson in the state tournament for the last five years, but for 45 before that I didn’t and I still enjoyed high school hockey. I get to see a lot of it.”
• The Barber family was in Gophers news again the other day when former Gophers and Houston Texans safety Dominic Barber became a member of Jerry Kill’s staff. No doubt Marion Barber was a great running back, but the word is that the youngest Barber, Tommy, an RB/LB for Robbinsdale Armstrong this fall, may turn out to be the best in the family.
• Next year the Gophers will play Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin in home and away games in men’s basketball. They will have home games only with Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State and Rutgers. There are away games only at Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Michigan State.
• When it comes to the Vikings signing defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who was paid $31.5 million over five years, Joseph said that the last offer from the New York Giants, who drafted him, was “nowhere near” the Vikings’ contract offer.