Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was about 30 minutes into a discussion about the discouraging aspects of the 2014 season when he was asked to pick what he considers to be the most encouraging.

“Teddy,” he said without hesitation.

Zimmer said this last week in his office. It had been 10 days since Teddy Bridgewater set the bar for best debut starts by a rookie quarterback in Vikings history. It would be another four days before Bridgewater faced the Lions’ No. 1-ranked defense.

“Obviously,” Zimmer said, “there are going to be some bumps and bruises along the way for a young quarterback.”

Four days later, there were lots of both, not to mention eight sacks, three interceptions and an overall putrid offensive performance.

How putrid? Well, over the final 56 minutes of a 60-minute game, the Vikings held Matthew Stafford to 15-for-29 passing for 116 yards and no touchdowns. And still lost by two touchdowns.

This was the kind of team performance that Zimmer feared when he inherited a 5-10-1 team that earmarked quarterback as a first-round need.

“My biggest fear, which is probably why we didn’t play Teddy earlier than we did, was making sure we didn’t break his confidence,” Zimmer said. “I didn’t want to have the David Carr situation in Houston. How good is the defense going to be? How can we protect this guy? … What is the right situation for him? And then Matt [Cassel] was playing well in the preseason, so there was no need to play Teddy.”

When it comes to the process of developing quarterbacks, David Carr remains the two-word closing argument against rushing a rookie onto the field too early. The mere mention of his name can bring a shudder and an urge to knock wood.

In 2002, Carr was the No. 1 overall draft pick. He went to the expansion Houston Texans in what was a logical fit.

The Texans decided it was best for Carr to learn on the job. Carr, 23 at the time, went 4-12 and was sacked 76 times in what remains an NFL single-season record. He never reached his potential, finishing 23-56 while being sacked 267 times during an 11-year career spent with four teams.

“When I was in Cincinnati, [Andy] Dalton started from the beginning,” said Zimmer, the former Bengals defensive coordinator. “But he was the only quarterback we had and we were good on defense. It was the right time. Here, when Matt got hurt [in Week 3], Teddy had to get ready to go sooner. Now, it’s up to us to do a better job around him.”

Monday, Zimmer said he “wouldn’t be opposed” to making changes to an offensive line that he said isn’t playing up to expectations and has contributed mightily to the team’s 14 sacks allowed the past two weeks. Last week, Zimmer said he spends a lot of time around the offensive linemen because they hold a key to the mentality he’s trying to instill.

“I talk to the offensive line a lot about how they have to be part of what this organization is all about,” Zimmer said. “Dominant and physical, smart and tough. They have the ability to do all of that, regardless of whatever else is going on.”

Zimmer admits he isn’t a patient man and is wired to speak his mind before a proper cooling-off period.

“I’m never, ever, ever going to settle for not being what I expect us to be,” he said. “I don’t know if our record is where we’re supposed to be or should be. With all the things going on, I just know that my expectation level of whoever is out there playing needs to do their job.

“I guess what’s as frustrating as anything is we make mistakes in games that we don’t make in practice. It’s like, ‘What are we thinking?’ And it’s, ‘Well, I saw so and so over here go do this.’ And I’m like, ‘Did anybody tell you to do that?’ No.”

Zimmer said he often tells the team that “faith is belief without proof.” He wants the players to have faith when being taught techniques that are different from what they were taught before.

“I believe that if we do the things we are capable of doing, we can win a lot of football games,” he said. “And consequently, if we don’t do the things I believe we can do and I believe are important to winning football games, we won’t win a lot of football games.”


Mark Craig