Vikings players ended a six-week vacation Thursday by reporting for work. In the short walk from a players-only parking lot to the Mankato dorms, they heard from an assortment of fans, media and ushers before officially punching the time card.
After move-in, physicals and conditioning tests, a longer trek awaited them across campus, where Mike Zimmer led a team meeting on the eve of his third training camp as Vikings head coach.
A to-do list was unraveled for a defense that allowed the fifth-fewest points per game last season. Standards are high.
“We’ve got to get better at playing the run,” Zimmer said Thursday. “We’ve got to create more turnovers. The quarterback rating against us has been too high. So, we have to do a better job at contesting balls and ball disruption.”
Zimmer has spearheaded an overhaul of the 32nd-ranked Vikings defense he inherited just 30 months ago. And the longtime defensive coordinator still intends on calling plays, which makes him one of a few NFL head coaches to do so.
Though as the defense takes shape, Zimmer has turned his attention to where it’s needed most — the offense. He decided to make a change at offensive line coach in January. Zimmer filled two vacancies on his staff with former head coaches, Tony Sparano and Pat Shurmur, to add different approaches and ideas.
His personal assessment this offseason included reviews of every Adrian Peterson run from 2015 out of various personnel groups to examine what was effective and what wasn’t.
“I’m never going to get too far away from the defense,” Zimmer said. “But I did spend a fair amount of time this offseason — this summer — looking at a lot of offensive cutups. And some of the things I see, just a different set of eyes and talking to the coaches about these things.”
Multiple paths were taken to improve the offense, including assistant coaching moves as well as top resources in the draft and free agency. Knowing third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was under duress as much as anyone last season should only further Zimmer’s pragmatism, which held steadfast even as the team announced his own contract extension before camp.
“The expectation level is much higher,” Zimmer said. “I get that, but the expectation isn’t any higher for me than what it was the first year, second year or what it is this year. I think this team understands hard work. I think they understand the things we have to do to get there. And there are so many good teams in this league. People are saying we’re not even in the top half of the NFC.”
You’re still hearing doubters?
“Oh yes, lots,” Zimmer said. “I have and I’ll mention it [Thursday night] in the meeting.”