INDIANAPOLIS – Mike Zimmer’s whirlwind first month as the new Vikings coach hit the big stage this week when he and hundreds of other NFL personnel gathered at this week’s combine.
Evaluating the more than 300 prospects makes it a busy time for the Vikings staff, but Zimmer addressed a variety of topics about players already on the team.
• Zimmer expects running back Adrian Peterson to return in time for the Vikings’ late April minicamp. Zimmer said he received a positive report from head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman on Peterson, who had groin surgery last month. He was expected to fully recover in six weeks, but Zimmer said Peterson has been healing better than expected.
While there have been concerns about Peterson’s durability following his third consecutive offseason surgery, Zimmer said, “This guy isn’t an average 28- or 29-year-old [Peterson turns 29 next month] back.
“This guy is special and some of the things, when we were fixin’ to play him, I was like, ‘Wow, if we’re not really good in the way we line up and contain and be in the right positions, we’re going to have a hard, hard day.’ ”
• The Vikings hope to add a rookie quarterback to their roster in the draft, but Christian Ponder is the only quarterback under contract for next season. When asked if he would be comfortable with Ponder as his starter, Zimmer said, “Yeah, if he was the best player.”
General Manager Rick Spielman said Thursday that he would like to add a veteran quarterback to compete for the starting position.
“[Ponder’s] got a great arm, he runs good, he’s a very bright guy,” Zimmer said. “I think everybody wants him to live up to his expectations, not only that we all have of him, but he has of himself. It’s hard for me to judge him when I haven’t been out on the field with him, asked him to do things, seen how he does different things. Once we get on the field, we’ll figure all those things out.”
• NFL personnel trust game tape more than any other evaluation element in most cases, but Zimmer won’t make his final verdict on a player until after an in-person encounter. The most important thing he’s looking for out of the conversation is whether the player is a “smart” guy.
“You can usually tell by talking to them, visiting with them,” Zimmer said. “Most guys are pretty respectful in how they talk, the way they interact with people. I think you can tell it, but you can also get them by the board and talk to them about.”
Zimmer said he and his defensive coaches watched film of the Bengals defense he coached last year and realized how many smart guys they had by his definition. He said he might copy a sign Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells displayed during his tenure with the Cowboys. It read: “Dumb players do dumb things. Smart players very seldom do dumb things.”
“Things happen so fast on the field that I think the players that are more intelligent can overcome some things that happen quickly like that,” Zimmer said.
• Zimmer still is adapting to life as an NFL head coach and realizing there’s more to it than just coaching football. That includes creating the team’s offseason schedule, which Zimmer doesn’t seem to enjoy.
“It’s just a pain in the rear end that you’re trying to do schedules for training camp, when to do red zone, when to do two-minute and all the other different scenarios and situations that come about,” he said. “Maybe it’s just because it’s on my mind at this point in time, but that is a part that has been difficult for me.”