Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he believes his team is improving each week but still has a ways to go as it enters its post-bye week game with Kansas City on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
“We’ve done some really good things, and we’ve done some things we have to improve on,” he said of his 2-2 team. “I would give us somewhere in the B range. I think we’ll continue to get better and the offensive line is still young and working together. I think defensively we can still play a lot better. But I do feel good about this team and the way they’re improving.”
Zimmer was asked to break down the offensive line and said he has liked the play of rookie T.J. Clemmings, a fourth-round pick, and talked about how hard the position of right tackle can be to play as a rookie. Clemmings has had to step up and play right away with Phil Loadholt out because of a season-ending injury.
“You see some of the things — the Chiefs drafted that tackle, [Eric] Fisher, the first pick in the  draft, and they’re trying to figure out what to do with him,” Zimmer said. “So it takes a while to get used to the NFL, the athleticism, all the speed that these defensive ends have, and all the different blitz protections that they have, as well.”
Zimmer has been pleased with the play of Joe Berger at center, saying the team is lucky to have him fill in for the injured John Sullivan. Zimmer also said he believes Sullivan will be ready to play soon.
“I think he’s scheduled to come back October 22nd,” Zimmer said. “We’ll see how he goes, but so far, so good.”
Zimmer believes moving Brandon Fusco to left guard has made a big difference on left tackle Matt Kalil and helped stabilize the line.
“Kalil is doing good. I think at this point in time he’s our best offensive lineman,” Zimmer said. “He has been tough, been physical. He has been good in pass protection. We’re happy about the progress he has made.”
Bridgewater, Peterson thrive
Zimmer has to be happy the offense is seeming to catch its stride with Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater making plays.
Regarding Bridgewater, who has thrown only two interceptions over 115 pass attempts this season, Zimmer said: “The good thing about Teddy is he doesn’t turn the ball over. He takes care of the football, gets the ball out in the right places. They’re giving him some things that he hasn’t seen before, either. He’ll continue to get better, as he has. I think the more that we get the continuity with the offensive line, the more I think that will help him.”
And what does Zimmer think of Peterson’s play? “Well, Adrian does help a lot and he’s obviously the focal point of our offense,” he said. “He’s a dynamic runner, and people will continue to start loading up on him and that will open up some things for [Mike] Wallace and Charles Johnson and [Kyle] Rudolph and those guys as we move forward.”
Zimmer has also been pleased with the contributions from his rookie class.
“Obviously T.J. Clemmings is starting, Stefon Diggs had a nice game last week, [Eric] Kendricks is playing an awful lot, we’ll work Danielle Hunter in the mix a little bit more this week,” he said. “Quite a few of those guys are getting opportunities to play, and Trae Waynes has got a chance to play some this week, as well.”
Regarding the Andy Reid-coached Chiefs, who are 1-4 and have had their share of bad luck this season, Zimmer said: “They have lost to three undefeated teams and they lost two games on the last play of the game basically. They have a very stout defense, play a lot of man-to-man on the back end. Offensively they spread you out, they have a lot of speed, [Jeremy] Maclin on the outside, [Travis] Kelce the tight end and Alex Smith is a quarterback that can really sling the ball.”
Tough schedule ahead
On the basis of the performance of the Gophers in their 48-25 loss to Nebraska on Saturday and their 27-0 loss at Northwestern, the team might have to beat Wisconsin in the final game of the season to have the six victories needed to qualify for a bowl game.
The Gophers, who suffered more key injuries Saturday, will certainly be underdogs in their next three games against Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. So they could have to beat Illinois and Wisconsin, both at home, to get to six victories.
The defense, which has been the strength of this team, had its worst game of the season Saturday. Nebraska marched up and down as Tommy Armstrong Jr. completed 18 of 26 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns while Terrell Newby ran for 116 of the Cornhuskers’ 203 rushing yards.
Mitch Leidner had a record day, completing 26 of 40 passes for 301 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions, but it didn’t do any good with the defense not effective on this day. And a team that has a history under coach Jerry Kill of being able to rush the ball netted only 65 yards on the ground against a tough Cornhuskers defense.
The Gophers took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards to take the lead, but after that it was all Nebraska, because the Maroon and Gold weren’t going to compete if they couldn’t run the ball.
Now the Gophers get a bye week and a chance to heal a number of injuries. But as mentioned, the remaining schedule is not in their favor.
• Former Holy Angels wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. is having a great year for the Arizona Cardinals after struggling last season. The 12-year NFL veteran has caught 35 passes for 490 yards and six touchdowns in five games. Last season he had only two touchdowns and 784 receiving yards all season, missing two games. His Cardinals teammate Michael Floyd, the former Cretin-Derham Hall wideout, has not been a big part of the offense, catching only eight passes for 104 yards this year.
• Speaking of the Cardinals, Tom Moore, the 76-year-old Owatonna, Minn., native and former Gophers and Vikings assistant, is an assistant head coach for them, and rest assured he is a big reason they are 4-1 this season. Moore is in his 52nd year of coaching and 38th in the NFL.
• The Timberwolves got another look at Anthony Bennett, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick for the Cavaliers who came here along with Andrew Wiggins in the Kevin Love deal and then was bought out of his contract last month. Bennett ended up with the Raptors, who just played two exhibition games with the Wolves in Canada. On Monday in Toronto, he had three points and five rebounds in 20 minutes, and on Wednesday in Ottawa he had 10 points and eight rebounds along with three steals.
• Speaking of Love, he hasn’t played since separating his shoulder last postseason, though media reports say he should make his preseason debut Sunday against Toronto. He missed 16 playoff games last season as the Cavs reached the NBA Finals without him.
• San Diego media are speculating that former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has a good chance to get the Padres job, for which he was expected to interview. He also was supposed to interview with the Nationals for their managerial vacancy.