Mike Zimmer put a bow on the Vikings’ offseason program Thursday with the old-school coach ending practice a half-hour early so players could hear from several Vikings alumni invited to the new Eagan facility for an annual barbecue.
Zimmer, at the helm of one of the more highly anticipated Vikings teams in recent history, said he was pleased with the team’s offseason.
“We pretty much stayed healthy, which was good,” Zimmer said.
“We got a lot of situational work in, in areas where we’re going to look at things offensively, defensively and [on] special teams. We’ll evaluate this summer. The ones we like we’ll keep going, and the rest we’ll throw out.”
Zimmer placed a continued emphasis this spring on red-zone sessions, devoting many of the 11-on-11 drills to short areas of the field.
The NFL’s reigning No. 1 defense was expectedly ahead of the offense in practices open to reporters, before players left for about five weeks of vacation.
The going-away message was “typical goodbye things,” he said.
“Keep working,” Zimmer said he told the team. “Make sure they come back in not just jogging shape, but in shape to plant, break, cut, get in and out of stances — things like that. Make sure they’re good citizens, take care of each other.”
After the final spring practice, players listened to former Vikings coaches and players such as Jerry Burns and Gene Washington. It’s been an annual presentation of Zimmer’s since the 62-year-old head coach was hired in 2014.
“A lot of these [current players] have pretty good lives and careers here because of those guys,” Zimmer said. “All the [alumni] here had to have jobs in the summer [during their playing days], so I think it’s important we honor the guys that came before us. Not only the Vikings, but the entire NFL.”
Hughes studies slot
Rookie cornerback Mike Hughes said he’ll keep his nose in the playbook over the next five weeks before training camp, particularly studying the slot position. Hughes, the 30th overall pick, spent the bulk of his first Vikings practices learning and playing the nickel role.
He made a couple plays from the slot during Thursday’s practice, deflecting an underneath throw intended for receiver Cayleb Jones and intercepting a tipped pass to tight end Josiah Price. Hughes has been with the reserves while cornerback Mackensie Alexander mans the nickel role with the starting defense.
“Wherever they want me,” Hughes said. “Right now, I think the main focus is learning the nickel position.”
Player to watch?
Receiver Brandon Zylstra, the local star at New London-Spicer High School and Concordia (Moorhead), “impressed” his offensive coordinator throughout spring practices. Zylstra, who signed with the Vikings this offseason, led the Canadian Football League with 1,687 receiving yards last year.
Now Zylstra (6-2, 215 pounds) has a chance to earn a roster spot at the start of camp next month.
“That guy continues to impress,” coordinator John DeFilippo said. “The more that he starts to understand the speed of the NFL game, he’s a strong guy, so people are going to have a hard time getting in his face.”
While rookie kicker Daniel Carlson took the lead with the kickoff and field-goal teams for much of the spring, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said the competition was “very good” through 13 full team practices.
Priefer said Carlson converted 16 of 19 field-goal attempts during team periods. The fifth-round pick missed field goal attempts from 35 and 55 yards in one session this week.
“I want to say Kai [Forbath] is 14 of 18 [on field goals], maybe 13 of 18, somewhere around there,” Priefer said. “It’s close. They both missed a couple they should have made. Every day is a growing process.”