Before Mike Zimmer and the rest of the Vikings staff went on vacation, the coach was asked for his impressions of how Adrian Peterson appeared to him in the few practices the 2012 NFL MVP took part with his teammates this offseason.
“He looks great. He made a great cut the other day in practice and I went over to him and said, ‘[Running backs] coach [Kirby] Wilson has taught you well on that cut you made,’ ” Zimmer said. “It was an amazing cut and he does it every day, some of these things he does. He’s catching the ball well out of the backfield and we are excited to have him.”
Zimmer expects Peterson’s presence after missing almost all of last season to make a lot of difference in the passing game.
“Hopefully it makes a lot,” Zimmer said. “We have some weapons outside and hopefully makes our offensive line better, as well. I do think that’s going to be a big key to our football team.”
Peterson’s much-anticipated return to Vikings practice came June 4 during OTAs. It came after he missed the final 15 games of the 2014 season and served an NFL suspension stemming from his legal troubles for a child abuse case.
Zimmer was asked his impression of how the team reacted to Peterson’s return.
“I think the first day when Adrian came back, everybody was trying to keep an eye on him, watch him run and do the things he did,” Zimmer said. “As practice went on, everything became more normal. They’ve all seen some of the things he can do in practice and we all say, ‘Wow,’ but it’s pretty much back to normal now.”
Offensive line improvement
The offensive line didn’t have an impressive season a year ago, and one of the reasons was that left tackle Matt Kalil wasn’t at his best after having knee surgery in May 2014.
The Vikings picked up the option on Kalil’s contract that calls for $11 million. They wouldn’t be paying him that kind of money if they didn’t have faith in him.
“Kalil is looking better and hopefully will continue to get better,” Zimmer said. “We have to get down to Mankato and get in pads. This offensive line needs to play big for us this year.”
Zimmer talked about the move of Brandon Fusco from right guard to left guard. Fusco missed most of last year after being injured in the third game of the season, at New Orleans.
“We moved him over to left guard because we had talked about those kinds of things in the draft, if we drafted somebody who could play on the right side,” Zimmer said. “[Fusco] has actually done a very nice job over there. I think him and [center John] Sullivan have a good relationship and now he is developing a good relationship with Kalil.”
As for the younger offensive linemen on the roster, Zimmer said: “Maybe one of these young offensive linemen show up, Tyrus Thompson or T.J. Clemmings or [Austin] Shepherd, one of those guys, they have a chance to come in and help us.”
Looking at rookies
Elsewhere, does Zimmer see any possible rookies or younger players starting?
“There’s a possibility of some of these rookies coming out,” Zimmer said. “[Wide receiver] Stefon Diggs is doing a great job and is going to push these guys. [Tight end] MyCole Pruitt is going to push the guys for playoff time. Obviously [linebacker] Eric Kendricks and [cornerback] Trae Waynes are all going to be pushing these guys for playing time. “
Asked if Kendricks, a second-round pick out of UCLA, will start, Zimmer said: “I don’t know if he’ll start but I know he’ll have a role for us defensively. He is a terrific pass-cover guy. If he’s not starting in the base there is a good chance he could start in the nickel.”
Among other topics Zimmer discussed:
Safety: “Antone Exum has had a very nice spring. The proof of what he can continue to do is how he handles when we’re going up against someone else and they start moving and seeing different plays than the ones from his offense, and the way they tackle. Our safeties have to tackle. He has a chance. Shaun Prater has looked good, [Robert] Blanton has done a nice job and [Andrew] Sendejo, all of them have.”
Linebacker: “Audie [Cole] will be fighting for that middle linebacker job, him and Kendricks. Audie is kind of a guy that just does his job. He goes out, makes a lot of tackles, makes plays, he is doing a very good job. We’ll just see where it goes.”
Long snapper: After 12 years with the team, Cullen Loeffler will have to battle with Kevin McDermott for that role. Zimmer praised both and said when the team get into pads, a decision will come quickly.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater: “Hopefully he will continue to improve just like he did at the end of the year. I love the kid. I love his demeanor and everything about him.”
Zimmer concluded by saying: “It’s a much deeper football team, we have much more depth. Hopefully we can all stay healthy, but Rick [Spielman] has done a nice job of adding a lot of talent.”
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• Ex-Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is being represented by agent John Boggs, the same person who represents Gardenhire’s successor, Paul Molitor.
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