Mike Zimmer started his fourth training camp as Vikings coach this week. Before it started, he talked about some of the changes coming to the Vikings and how he plans to approach camp with a team that finished 8-8 and failed to meet its own expectations last season.
Q Will you have any tweaks to the way you practice or to how you schedule practice this year?
A A lot of it is correcting mistakes we had a year ago, things we definitely need improvement on, and obviously there are several of them. I think that is part of it. Then when you get into camp you’re kind of trying to evaluate where you’re at as a football team and you know you might end up making some changes there. You see some things we’re not doing well enough, so you add a few more of those situations. If you’re satisfied with some things, you might move onto a different area. It’s a little bit like you keep evaluating every day and see where you’re at and change things if you have to.
Q How do you decide that a player is improving during these practices? Is that a difficult process?
A A lot of times it’s guys not making mistakes, that is part of it. If everybody is on the same page, getting off the ball at the same time offensively or, defensively, playing with good technique. It’s so hard when you have 22 guys, and everybody has their way of evaluating different players or different people, but we sit in there and we watch the tape after practice two or three times, really, with the coaches and again with the players. A lot of time it’s the effort that they’re doing, the mistakes they’re making, and you’re always looking and hoping for guys that they emerge and make plays and you start seeing them react a little bit quicker, react a little bit faster.
Q Do you have a starting offensive line in your mind?
A We’re going to end up trying to evaluate all of them. I think part of the issue will be the right guard and the center, seeing what that position is going to look like. [Mike] Remmers and [Riley] Reiff will be at tackles. [Alex] Boone will be at one guard. At right guard and center it’s going to come down to [Joe] Berger, [Pat] Elflein, [Nick] Easton, all those guys in there. There’s some other guys we’re hoping — Danny Isidora had a very nice spring, but it wasn’t with pads on so we have to see how he does.
Q How has the process of implementing Pat Shurmur’s offense been so far?
A I think it has been really good. We have done a lot of things simplifying, trying to add a little bit of what he likes to do, a little bit more of the West Coast stuff, but at the end of the day we have to run the ball better. I think that is going to be a big key for us. It just makes us so one-dimensional if you can’t run the football — defenses have a good chance to load up on you. We weren’t very good running the ball last year, so that is going to be a good point of emphasis for us.
Q Are you set in how you’re going to fill in at linebacker with Chad Greenway retiring?
A We have a few guys that have an opportunity there and, again, when we get into camp with these pads on. Emmanuel Lamur is a very good athlete. Edmond Robinson is a very good athlete. I like this Ben Gedeon, he has played middle linebacker before, but he may end up moving over. Kentrell Brothers is another inside linebacker that played very well for us on special teams last year, so he may get a shot. Really, I don’t want to pigeonhole anybody and say, ‘Oh he’s a Mike linebacker, he’s a Will linebacker,’ whatever it is, we’re just going to try and get the three best guys out there. I think that that position typically is going to play about 30 percent of the plays. It is just not near as much as it used to be. The nickel is much more prevalent in today’s NFL, so more defensive backs are usually on the field.
Q How has Teddy Bridgewater been doing?
A He is not ready to play football yet. He is progressing. We have a plan for him. The unfortunate part is he won’t be able to be out there practicing with us, but he’ll be on the side working out. We’re hopeful that Teddy comes back. There is no one that is not rooting for Teddy to come back from this injury. He is a great kid and he has great willpower and great heart. I believe that he’ll come back, I just don’t know when it’s going to be.
Q Is your secondary pretty settled?
A Xavier Rhodes will probably be corner, he had a great year last year and we’re anticipating that he continues to move forward from there. At the other corner, I think it’s probably going to be Trae Waynes and try to protect Terence Newman a little bit. At the safety spot obviously Harrison Smith, he has had a good offseason and healed from his surgery that he had after the season last year. The other safety spot, [Andrew] Sendejo played well. We’re always trying to look for more depth at that position. It could be [Jayron] Kearse, it could be Anthony Harris, it could be [Antone] Exum, any number of those guys. It’ll be a good battle, I think, at the one safety spot. The one thing about Sendejo is he doesn’t make any mistakes and most of the time he is in good position. We’ll kind of go from there.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck talked about how he plans to use running backs Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,219 yards last season, and Shannon Brooks, who rushed for 682 yards. “We love having running backs and we love running the football, but we’re not a big two-back system. You’re going to see different avenues. You might see one split out at wideout, one in the backfield, we’re going to do the best we can to get the best 11 players on the field.”
• Look for Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who can be an unrestricted free agent after this year, to get the next big contract following Everson Griffen’s deal this week. The current highest-paid cornerback in the NFL is Trumaine Jacksonwith the Rams, making $16.7 million in 2017.
• A year ago at this time, ESPN and other services were predicting a great future for former Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner, but unfortunately he wasn’t drafted. He did get a chance with the Ravens, but they released him without a contract and apparently he’s working out hoping someone will pick him up.
• Jimmy Butler was a guest on Bill Simmons’ popular NBA podcast and broke down his final meeting with the Chicago Bulls before hearing he was traded. “I don’t know if [the Bulls] knew what they really wanted to do until something was presented to them that was, ‘OK, yeah we gotta take this and go that way.’ You’re .500, you’re not a bad team, you’re not a good team. What are you going to do? I don’t blame them.”
• Gophers infielder Micah Coffey played in the Cape Cod League All-Star game last Saturday. Coffey, who was 1-for-2 in the game, is hitting. 271 for Hyannis. Coffey hit .340 for the Gophers last season. … Former Gophers pitcher Ben Meyer, pitching for the Miami Marlins’ Jupiter farm team in the Class A Florida State League, is 4-2 with a 1.50 ERA this season. In 78 innings this season, Meyer, who was a 29th-round pick in the 2015 draft, has struck out 99.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org