Harrison Smith said pretty much what you would expect him to say when one of my fellow media members asked him if the players had bought into new coach Mike Zimmer. But I liked how the third-year free safety put it (though I understand if you’re leery of boat analogies).
“Yeah, I felt that even before we got on the field,” said Smith, who is healthy by the way. “The workouts, the conditioning, you could tell that guys had bought in. I think it’s been great so far. Everybody jumped in the boat and we’re all pressing ahead. We’ve just got a long way to go.”
It shouldn’t surprise you that Vikings players are saying that they have bought into Zimmer. It would only be a story if they were saying they hadn’t after his first four months on the job.
Zimmer’s thoughts on his players buying into his program, however, were more interesting.
“I don’t worry about that. I don’t worry about if they are buying in,” Zimmer told reporters after Thursday’s OTA workout. “My job is to coach them hard and try to get them to be the best players they can be. You’d have to ask them if they are buying in, really. My job is to coach them.”
Translation: They better have bought in, and if they haven’t yet, the offer is only going to stand for a little while longer.
After getting a brief glimpse at Zimmer during previous offseason workouts, we finally got a good look -- and listen -- on Thursday at how he interacts with his players, especially his defenders. I had my eyes on Zimmer for much of the morning, watching him go from defensive back to defensive back, sometimes dispensing words of praise and other times getting on their cases.
I particularly enjoyed this exchange with veteran cornerback Derek Cox, who was a step behind his man in coverage on one play but wasn’t targeted as the quarterback threw elsewhere.
“Is that your guy?” Zimmer asked Cox as he walked back to the line of scrimmage.
“Yeah,” Cox replied, though Zimmer knew the answer already.
“So cover him!” Zimmer said before turning and walking away.
Zimmer had a few exchanges with players that were less family friendly. He got after free-agent signing Captain Munnerlyn after he lost track of Cordarrelle Patterson in one 1-on-1 drill. He had some unbloggable words for rookie safety Antone Exum after he was tentative on another play.
But Smith told me a few dirty words aren’t a big deal, and that he actually enjoys getting chewed out by Zimmer. Hey, the NFL office is nothing like your office, and it’s not like there is anything unique about a football coach occasionally using four-letter words to get a point across.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner showed a little fire, too, yelling at the first-team offense after some confusion in the huddle and later when Christian Ponder, who worked mostly with the second-stringers during Thursday’s workout, got a quick-hitter swatted down at the line.
We know that Zimmer has a reputation for being blunt and he certainly didn’t hold much back in the snippets of “Hard Knocks” that HBO chose to broadcast (know that there are more sides to Zimmer than that). But it was a little surprising to see the seemingly stoic Turner getting after people, too.
However, it was nothing over the top, and after some tense workout sessions at the start of the offseason program last month, the players seemed a little more relaxed on Thursday morning.
Don’t let the smiles fool you, though. These guys know that there is a lot at stake, even in May.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business,” Smith said. “If you haven’t bought in, they’ll just get rid of you.”