In Mike Zimmer's first season as a head coach, he lost his veteran quarterback and star running back for the season before the end of the third game, was forced to start a rookie quarterback, lost his starting tight end, and introduced a new offense and defense. It's a wonder he won seven games.
He should start his second season with Adrian Peterson as his featured back, Teddy Bridgewater as a budding star at quarterback, Kyle Rudolph healthy and two strong drafts having improved his defense.
I spoke with the Vikings coach one-on-one on Friday afternoon, and he sounded quietly confident.
Q Was drafting Teddy Bridgewater beneficial not only because you found your quarterback but because finding your quarterback allowed you to draft defensive players this year?
A The Teddy thing was huge because that was really the number one priority of the organization. We had to get a quarterback we thought could take us to the next level. Honestly, we didn't go into this draft saying this was going to be a defensive draft. We went in and we had offensive guys targeted, but they might have gotten picked before we could pick them.
When we picked [cornerback] Trae Waynes there were three or four guys there we thought we would be happy with, but part of it with Trae was the position he plays. Typically when you draft those corners, you draft pretty high. Once it gets down lower, to the second round, they don't produce like the higher picks. Knock on wood — we hope we're drafting a little lower next year.
Q Will the additions of Waynes and linebacker Eric Kendricks enable you to coach more aggressively?
A There are things we've been thinking about, possibly, like if we got three corners, how could we adjust that defensively and use those guys more often. If we've got a pass rusher like [third-round pick Danielle] Hunter, let's say, if he turns out to be what we want, how can we use him in the nickel package, or can we play him with five down linemen or six down linemen?
Q Do you expect Bridgewater to improve dramatically this season?
A I'm hopeful that what he did at the end of the year continues to progress. He really did have a heck of a stretch at the end of the year. The thing I've noticed about him now, just this last week being out on the field together, the communication with him and his leadership skills, his being more outgoing, all those things I've already noticed in a week's time.
He looks like he's stronger throwing the ball to me now.
Q What kind of quarterback do you expect him to become?
A My hope for him is that he is a winner. That's really what I'm hoping for, that what he was in college is what he is here, whatever that means. Throwing every down, have to go down to score at the end of a ballgame, or handing off and making the right decisions. Just being the type of leader that everyone gravitates toward — and that's what we're seeing now.
Q What's your expectation for this season?
A You have to be careful of expectations. Each year is different.
But I'll say this, the atmosphere with the players around here, the excitement of the football team, is light years ahead of where it was last year.
I think the coaches feel that way, the players feel that way, the fans feel that way. Now it's up to us to go play better. I do feel the continuity now, with these guys hearing me say what I'm looking for and the kinds of players I like. You come out here now and we can rattle off some things that we hadn't even gone over that they can do because we did it last year.
I think we're excited about the possibility of moving forward, but at the end of the day, we've still got a lot of work to do.