Having thrown himself into his new job upon joining the Vikings in January, Mike Zimmer looked like a man who had little interest in taking a vacation. After all, who needs a beach when you have a few practice fields?
Zimmer looked as comfortable as ever Thursday as his first offseason program as Vikings coach wrapped up, and he might have even cracked a smile or two as he tweaked the technique of his defenders and watched all three of his quarterbacks coolly execute the two-minute drill.
But after sending his players off for summer vacation with an edict to be professional and accountable, Zimmer suddenly has free time on his hands.
“Honestly, I’ll probably miss these guys for five weeks,” Zimmer said. “It’s been a good five months.”
Zimmer has had a full workload with little time for rest and introspection after he was tabbed to replace Leslie Frazier and tasked with overhauling a team that went 5-10-1 last season. He assembled a coaching staff, jumped into free agency and aided the front office as the Vikings honed in on their 10-player draft class.
Over the past two months, he has carefully watched his players in the classroom, in the gym and on the practice field to see how they learn, work and interact with each other.
On a micro level, he has discovered that running back Adrian Peterson can capably catch passes, that rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is as bright as advertised and that he has pieces such as Xavier Rhodes and Brian Robison with which he can start to rebuild the Vikings’ 31st-ranked defense (though figuring out exactly where to put those pieces is another story).
On a broader level, Zimmer has learned that he has something to work with here.
“I learned that we have got good guys on this team,” he said. “I think that [General Manager] Rick Spielman and the scouts have done a good job of getting quality people in here. I learned that they want to win. I learned that they work real hard. They get along with each other pretty well for a bunch of guys from different backgrounds and different places. I learned a lot about their personal lives, but to me it’s about how hard they work, how hard they study. It’s impressive to me.”
But while Zimmer has gotten some answers over the past couple of months, many questions will remain unanswered when his first training camp opens in Mankato July 24.
Who will start at safety alongside Harrison Smith? How will the linebackers line up, and could Chad Greenway actually man the middle? Who will be the third cornerback? Are 2013 first-rounders Sharrif Floyd and Rhodes ready to take a big leap forward?
On offense, can new coordinator Norv Turner work his magic here, too? How will Peterson and athletic rookie backup Jerick McKinnon be used in the passing game? Will the starting offensive line remain intact? What can Cordarrelle Patterson do in Year 2?
“Yeah, we still have got some questions that we are trying to answer,” Zimmer said.
The most important of them all will be who starts at quarterback.
Despite Zimmer’s declaration Tuesday that it will be a three-way competition, veteran Matt Cassel and Bridgewater got the bulk of the snaps during this three-day minicamp, with Cassel usually throwing to the first-teamers. Christian Ponder, meanwhile, was often a spectator. Zimmer said he has a date in mind by which he wants to name his starter, not that he is sharing that with anyone anytime soon.
That question will undoubtedly linger on his mind over the next few weeks, which he will spend on a tractor at his ranch in Kentucky and at his parents’ place down in Florida, with a pit stop down in Dallas.
But as he eagerly waits for his vacation to end, Zimmer can feel satisfied that his first spring as an NFL head coach was a success.
“I feel very secure in everything that we’ve done to this point,” he said. “I’m not in awe of any aspect that’s happened so far. I think the players have helped a lot in that way in making it easier to step into a new situation, and I told them that I appreciated that.”