Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Zimmer sees improvement in the Vikings secondary

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: June 11, 2014 - 8:29 AM

Mike Zimmer says he has “a lot of main focuses” besides the Vikings secondary, but I’m not the only one who has noticed the head coach gravitating toward the defensive backs during OTAs.

The media has only received an invitation once a week to watch Zimmer’s defense in action during these OTAs. But while Zimmer said last Thursday that the Vikings have “got a ways to go” to practice up to his standards, he has seen some improvement in the Minnesota secondary.

“I think we have improved quite a bit back there. We’re doing a much better job in the coverage than early on in the first minicamp [in late April],” Zimmer said last week. “We’re understanding coverages better. We are playing a lot tighter. We still have got a ways to go. You can’t play any bump and run in these OTAs so that will be our next big emphasis in the backend when we finally get to training camp, working on bump and run, because we need to be good at that.”

When Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, the Bengals often used press coverage on the outside to redirect receivers and fluster them with physical play. The Bengals allowed just 5.9 yards per attempt last season, second to only the Seahawks. They also allowed just 22 passing touchdowns in 2013, which ranked 11th in the NFL and were 15 fewer than the Vikings.

The Vikings, meanwhile, were 31st in passing yards allowed and surrendered 7.5 yards per attempt.

While Zimmer is encouraged with the progress he has seen from his new cornerbacks, including free-agent additions Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox, he also noted that they are benefitting from gaining a familiarity with the Vikings’ receivers after covering them day in and day out.

“For all of these guys, you get going against your own team, you see the receivers run the route, run the route, run the route, for I don’t know how many days now … so you kind of get a feel for each receiver,” he said. “The real judge is when we get in against the preseason games against other people.”

Asked specifically about second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who some in the national media feel is poised for a breakout season, Zimmer sounded excited about him, too. Well, in his own way.

“Xavier has a lot of ability,” said Zimmer, whose first offseason program wraps up with next week’s mandatory minicamp. “I mean he’s a very, very talented guy and so I’m talking to him about being the same guy every single day and every play -- not one play is good and one play is not as good. To be more focused, I guess is really the thing. He has a lot of ability. I’m excited to work with him.”

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