MANKATO — Mike Zimmer ordered his Vikings offense to its own 2-yard line.
“Make them punt the ball!” Zimmer said to his defense.
First, defenders corralled a Dalvin Cook carry. Then Stefon Diggs was wrapped up just short of the first-down marker. From the 10-yard line, the offense needed just one yard for a first down.
In this situation Zimmer concocted — or rather copied from previous NFL games during a summer study of his — the offense had a two-point lead and looked to run the clock out in the fourth quarter while backed up to its own end zone.
“If we gave up a safety, we’d be in trouble,” center Nick Easton said.
The defense needed to get a stop. Eager to thwart the run on third-and-1, defenders bit hard on Bradford’s play-action handoff to Cook.
Then Bradford found Kyle Rudolph over the top on a 25-yard strike down the left hash marks. Rudolph likely would’ve scored a 90-yard touchdown past safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo.
“The defense is not doing well right now,” Smith said after the play. “It was a good play call, honestly. We should still be able to cover everything now matter what the play call is. That was a good one there and we just got to tighten it up a little bit.”
Random simulated game situations have become more common at Vikings practices as Zimmer tries different teaching tools to improve his team’s ‘clutch gene,’ if you will. This comes after the Vikings lost a handful of close games in a 3-8 skid that soured a 5-0 start.
Each practice provides a new setting from Zimmer’s list.
“I’ve got a big list of things I did over summer from situations I took off game tapes from all over the league,” Zimmer said. “I just pick one out a day and just play it. We just play the game.”
The Vikings began Saturday’s practice — the first in pads — with one play from each string on third-and-2. The defense held against the first two offenses with only quarterback Taylor Heinicke gaining a first down with the third team, converting on a completed crossing route to tight end Josiah Price.
Rather than running through an orchestrated two-minute drill or setting the offense up at the 20-yard line, the Vikings are trying to mimic more diverse situations. Zimmer hopes they also benefit him and his assistant coaches, whether by testing their handle on timeouts or ability to get the right personnel groups and play calling.
“Just get them in those situations and if it happens in a game, we’ve already been through it,” Zimmer said. “Everybody has to think on the run.”