How different is Week 1 going to be for the Vikings as they get ready to face the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday?
Coach Mike Zimmer said the team has to prepare without any info on what new packages the Packers will use on offense or defense.
"We really haven't been able to scout them. We kind of know each other. I think both teams kind of know each other, for the most part," Zimmer said. "We don't know maybe who they're going to have, they lost some guys, so how are they going to deploy [new players]?"
But Zimmer said they are lucky to face Green Bay in Week 1 because of that familiarity and history.
"They have a really, really strong defensive front," he said. "The two Smiths [outside linebackers Preston and Za'Darius Smith] are really good. [Nose tackle] Kenny Clark is really good. Their secondary is good. Offensively obviously everything goes through [quarterback Aaron] Rodgers but [running back] Aaron Jones is a tremendous back and [wide receiver] Davante Adams is a handful all the time. They've got a couple new guys in their offensive line, all teams have a little bit of that.
"It should be a great game. It's a great test for us. They are well-coached, they do a lot of great things scheme-wise on both sides of the ball and it should be a really good game and hopefully we play great."
When asked to compare where this team is going into Week 1 vs. Week 1 of last season, Zimmer said there's no doubt there's some additional uncertainty this year.
"I like this team," he said. "I think there's obviously some concerns being that we haven't played any preseason games. You wonder how we're going to tackle. You wonder how the officials are going to call the penalties. We have to make sure we're clean with our hands. But as far as the talent and the personnel that we have, I feel good about that. It's just some of these unknown factors that you don't have with preseason games."
Rodgers a good test
When asked what players he's most excited to see in game action, Zimmer pointed to first-round draft pick Justin Jefferson at wide receiver and his young cornerbacks group that includes returning players such as Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd, but also rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler.
"Obviously Justin Jefferson, I am excited to see. I think he has a bunch of talent," Zimmer said. "Really these young defensive backs, all of them. They have shown a lot of really good things. I think that it will be a good test for them going up against Rodgers this week.
"When we get out there on the field, it doesn't seem like the game is too big for them. That will be fun to see how they go out there and compete against these really good players from Green Bay."
Zimmer is not thrilled, however, that when the Vikings travel to Indianapolis next week for the Colts' home opener, they will be allowed to have 2,500 fans in attendance.
"Well, I do think it's a competitive disadvantage when you can have fans in," he said. "… I have always told the team, 'It doesn't matter who we play or where we play, all that matters is how we play.' That's kind of the approach that we're taking."
While training camp and the preseason were anything but normal because of the coronavirus pandemic, Zimmer gave a lot of praise to the team for handling the new protocols well. He also said the club couldn't have done it without the guidance of head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman.
"Really, the players have done a great job and I have to give a lot of credit to Eric Sugarman, who has put a lot of this stuff together with the protocols and things like that," Zimmer said. "But the players have bought in and we have been so far, so good as far as everybody getting on the same page with the testing and wearing the masks in the building and doing the one-way hallways and things like that.
"It is good to have smart players and players that care about one another and care about other people's families and things like that. I think all of those things have been good so far."
How did Zimmer handle the different training camp?
"Probably not as good as them," he said. "I guess the football part has not been too bad, just protocols change so many times and you know, I like to look the players in the face when we're meeting and ask them questions where it's not just virtual. But you know as far as the football part, I think that has all been good.
"We have had good practices and the guys have been working very, very hard. I feel really good about the coaching staff and everything we have going on right here."
Yes, and the Vikings made one of the best moves they could have made for this franchise when they extended Zimmer for three seasons through 2023.
"Well, I'm very appreciative of it," he said. "I think it adds stability to our program here and the way that we're trying to build things. I'm excited about it and I'm excited to hopefully be here for another four years."
The Vikings offense took a lot of big steps forward last season as their 407 points were the most scored by a team under Zimmer and their 5,862 total yards ranked second during the Zimmer years.
Zimmer thought the offense that worked so well last season, with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison rushing the ball and Kirk Cousins getting a lot of throwing time off play-action, should be even better this year under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
"That part is really good. Dalvin adds so much to our offense with his explosiveness and the threat of him running the football. Then the play-actions obviously come off of that," Zimmer said. "I think Gary has done a nice job of continuing to add to some of those things that both of those two guys do well, I think you'll see that as we move forward here."
And while things are going to be different this season, Zimmer said he has already seen some positives.
"I think the biggest thing with that is the world is so different now than it has been and when our players get the opportunity to go out on the practice field or go in the locker room together and they go out and practice, it's like normal life again," he said. "I think that really is a good thing for them. They get a chance to just joke around and talk about things that they have been talking about for the last few years. I think it is probably like that for every team.
"But we're fortunate that we have some great guys here in the locker room that are really good. I think that is a good part of it."
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org