Phil Loadholt’s early impression of new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff through the first veteran minicamp is that they are a disciplined group that keeps everybody working hard and competing.
“It just gave me a lot of reasons to be excited about this upcoming season and playing for Coach Zimmer here down the road,” said the former Oklahoma lineman, who is entering his sixth season with the Vikings. The 6-8, 343-pound right tackle signed a four-year contract extension last year that will keep him here through the 2016 season and pay him $25 million.
Loadholt was asked if Zimmer is tougher than Leslie Frazier was as a head coach.
“Coach Zimmer definitely takes pride in being a great disciplinarian,” Loadholt said. “Not a lot of gray areas. Everything is real black and white, set in stone with him. I think guys appreciate that, and it’s motivated a lot of guys to go out there and get your work done and work hard while you’re in the building and things like that. So far it has been a lot of fun.”
Loadholt acknowledged the offensive line had several injuries last season and said that if the core group can stay healthy this year, that will go a long way toward improving the offense.
“It’s going to be important for us to stay healthy so we can have all five guys playing every snap this year, which would definitely be beneficial to the team,” he said. “We just have to continue to work hard with each other, stay together, and as long as we can stay healthy, like you said, I think we’ll be pretty good up front.”
Can this team dramatically improve?
“Definitely,” he said. “You know we have a lot of young guys, young talent that is coming along, some great veteran leadership on both sides of the ball. If we can take these young guys along with us, it’s bound to be better overall. As long as we continue to take care of the ball on offense and get some stops on defense, we should be all right.”
What does Loadholt see from the competition at quarterback so far, between Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and rookie Teddy Bridgewater?
“Looking at those guys, they’ve all been competing well,” he said. “They’re competing just like everyone else is on the team right now. I’m just looking forward to seeing those guys compete during training camp and things like that. We’ll just go from there, whenever the coaches are ready to make whatever decision they make. Hopefully whoever that is will be able to take us where we need to be.”
Loadholt said the offensive linemen are fortunate to have Jeff Davidson return as their position coach.
“There is some things that Coach Davidson spoke with [offensive coordinator Norv] Turner about, who has been doing this for a very long time, so there’s some carry-over in things like technique, but also different terminology that we have to get on the same page as a unit with,” he said. “We’ve had ample reps already this offseason, so we’re improving in that. Coach Turner, his rap sheet speaks for itself, so [we’re] just excited to have the opportunity to play under a coordinator like that, and lucky that we were able to keep Coach Davidson for some similarity [despite other coaching changes].”
What did Loadholt think about his play last year?
“I felt like I put together a decent season, but it’s all about winning games,” he said. “If we’re not winning games, it’s irrelevant. My goal is to do what I can to help this team win some games and get back into the playoffs again and try to make a run at this thing. Those are my goals personally, just doing whatever I can to best help the team. Whatever it is they call on me to do, just want to get that done.”
Mitchell new favorite?
With the news coming Sunday that Dave Joerger and the Grizzlies had patched up their relationship and he would remain the Memphis head coach, the new favorite for the Wolves coaching position has to be Sam Mitchell.
Mitchell played with the Timberwolves for 10 seasons, including his final seven years with Flip Saunders as his head coach. Mitchell went on to become an assistant coach with Milwaukee from 2002 to ’04 before landing a head coaching job in Toronto, where in 2007 he was named NBA Coach of the Year.
Mitchell never really got a fair shake in Toronto, being fired after starting 8-9 in the 2008-09 season after taking the Raptors to the playoffs the previous year.