As a second-year coach with the Vikings you would think it is only natural that Mike Zimmer would be in a better position, not only being much more familiar with the talent on the team but also with Adrian Peterson returning after the running back played only one game last year because of his felony child abuse charge.
And the situation at quarterback is settled with Teddy Bridgewater ready to perform; a number of recent draft choices and free agents have shown in workouts that they can produce; and Zimmer should have a healthy offensive line after the unit was beat up all last year.
“I don’t know, I feel a lot more comfortable being in the second year,” said Zimmer, who made a fantastic impression last year. “Things are a little bit smoother in a lot of ways. I think organizationally and having a coach and really the transition of the football team, the defensive players know the terminology, the offensive players know the terminology.”
For the Vikings to improve on 2014’s 27th-ranked offense, 14th-ranked defense and 7-9 record, the team will need to find a lot of players who weren’t on the 53-man roster last season.
“The coaches know what I’m looking for,” Zimmer said. “The scouts and Rick [Spielman] and I are all on the same page where we can continue to communicate. I think as long as you keep the continuity together, your football team will continue to improve, because you’ll be constantly looking for the same kind of guys.”
Offensive line must improve
Zimmer was asked for his thoughts on the offensive line.
“We have to be more physical, do a better job protecting, and hopefully we can stay healthy and that will help some, too,” he said.
One move that could be made to improve the offensive line is Brandon Fusco, who missed most of last year after being signed to a multiyear contract, going from right guard to left guard, where he can help left tackle Matt Kalil, who should be healthy after undergoing surgery on both knees earlier this month after he also had offseason knee surgery last year. Then the hope is that fourth-round draft pick T.J. Clemmings, who played defensive line for two years in college at Pittsburgh, could move to right guard, where he has really impressed to date.
The biggest surprise of all would be if Babatunde Aiyegbusi, a 27-year-old free agent from Poland with no college experience, made a contribution. Zimmer was asked whether there’s any chance Aiyegbusi could add depth at tackle, where Phil Loadholt was injured last season, and Kalil also could use help.
“He’s raw,” Zimmer said. “He’s a very, very good athlete, he’s raw. It’s going to take him some time to develop. On some plays he looks very good and on some plays he goes the wrong way on the snap count and doesn’t sit right in the passes, but when he does do it right he is a huge man to get around.
“It’s kind of each day is a different day for him right now, until he can continue to understand the process and everything that goes into playing in the NFL. It’s a big jump for him, but so far he’s doing a good job.”
New names need to contribute
Speaking of all the new names on the roster, Zimmer said: “Every year is a different year, and we kind of go into it and see where we’re going to end up being, but the thing I like and that Rick has really done a good job of is we are adding a lot of talented football players and the competition amongst each position is getting better every day. We’re getting to be more physical, we’re getting to be bigger, we’re getting to be more athletic. The competition will make guys rise to the top.”
Another one of those players the Vikings have added that could surprise is Isaac Fruechte, the former Gophers wide receiver signed as an undrafted free agent.
“He did a good job,” Zimmer said about his play in rookie minicamp. “He ran good routes, caught the ball well. He’ll have a chance to be in the mix, as well.”
Talking about newcomers who might be able to help the defense, Zimmer mentioned linebacker Brian Peters from the Canadian Football League.
“Peters is pretty good, he runs well,” he said of the Northwestern product. “He’s 6-4, about 235-240, I think he ran 4.66 or something like that, so he’s actually been impressive as we get going.”
Zimmer discussed a number of free-agent signings, but specifically at the cornerback position, which needs depth. The most notable signee was 36-year-old Terence Newman, who spent the past three years with the Bengals.
“I’ve known him for quite a while,” Zimmer said. “And you know, it’s just things look like they’re starting to come together. Now we don’t want to win a lot of games in May, we’d like to win them in the fall when we’re playing somebody. I like the direction this team is going.”
Yes, for the Vikings to contend, there will have to be a lot of new names in the starting offensive and defensive units.
• People have to be surprised that going into Saturday, the Twins had the fourth-best record in baseball since April 14, at 22-12. Houston was 24-11, Washington was 23-11 and St. Louis was 24-12.
• Lou Nanne has done so many great things for this community, including his current role leading the fundraising for the University of Minnesota facilities campaign. The hockey great got a big honor Thursday night at the fourth annual Visionary Awards Dinner “Dining in the Dark” to benefit people dealing with blindness. Nanne and his wife, Francine, received the prestigious award at a dinner in downtown Minneapolis where the attendees ate while wearing blindfolds. Incidentally, the presentation was made by former North Stars owner Gordon Gund, who is blind, and who raised $200,000 for the event when he agreed to match every donation of $25,000 or more.
• The rumor is that Twins closer Glen Perkins, a former Gophers pitcher, has made a considerable contribution to make Siebert Field an even better facility for the baseball program than it is now.
• Here is a prediction I’m going to make: The Saints, with their new ballpark CHS Field, will be a Class AA or AAA affiliate of the Twins within a five-year period. A handful of major league teams have a farm club near their major league club, but the nearest Twins farm club is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
• Even though this is a family honor I think it is worth printing: My step-granddaughter Kally Reinke was honored on Saturday night to throw out the first pitch for the Saints at CHS Field. Her father, one John Valek, was killed in a September 2013 accident during the construction of the new ballpark. The team also dedicated a plaque in Valek’s honor. You have to praise the Saints for this kind gesture.