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Monday Morning Mailbag: Zimmer's Leadership, Defensive Changes, Ponder's Role, Plus More

Posted Jun 2, 2014

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the vikings.com Mailbag! Every Monday we’ll post several comments and/or questions as part of the vikings.com Monday Morning Mailbag feature. Although we can’t post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

To submit a comment or question to the mailbag, send an email to Mike Wobschall at wobschallm@vikings.nfl.net. Remember to include your name and town on the email.

How is Mike Zimmer’s leadership style different than our past three coaches? What is one of his best leadership qualities that you feel could help him succeed as the Vikings head coach?
-- Bill S.
Fargo, ND

The Vikings previous three head coaches – Mike Tice, Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier – each had a distinct coaching philosophy and style. Tice was able to instill an aura of authority while also currying good will with his players because his players respected the fact that he played the game not that long before he became a coach. Childress was rigid but was able to function well for a time because he came from a respected coaching tree and progressively built a back-to-back division championship team. Frazier was appreciated and respected because of his calm demeanor and methodical approach to building a team and managing relationships. In the short time I’ve been around coach Zimmer, my sense is he’s a blend of the best qualities from Tice and Childress. I believe he has the desire to set some fence posts deep to establish core principles – much like Childress – while also possessing the unique and valuable ability to draw the best from every one of his players on a consistent basis – much like Tice. One mantra I’ve used to describe Zimmer thus far is that he may not have all the best players, but he’s going to get the best from all of his players.

In OTAs, what were your thoughts on Linval Joseph, and how do think he will fit into Mike Zimmer's defense.
-- Keith K.

As coach Zimmer said last week, Joseph has not yet been full-go as he recovers from an injury but he is getting closer to 100%. In addition, contact restrictions and the nature of OTAs in general don't allow much of a look into what progress is being made in the trenches. But we already know what Joseph’s fit will be in Zimmer’s defense. Joseph is here to do a few things. First, he has the frame and strength to clog the running lanes and take up multiple blockers. This frees up one-on-one opportunities for other defensive linemen and it also protects the linebackers from being blocked and allows them to run free and make tackles. Secondly, and what makes Joseph a special player and worthy of the big-money contract he signed in free agency, is that Joseph not only takes up multiple blockers but he also penetrates and moves the line of scrimmage backwards. Whether it’s making a tackle for loss in the running game or pushing the pocket from the middle, expect Joseph to be a penetrator from his defensive tackle position who creates havoc in the offensive backfield.

Our defense seems to be revamped! I think we have a shot at being the No. 1 defense in our division. Do you think we have made defensive changes that can give us a chance at a run to the playoffs?
-- Ronald C.
Landover, MD

Yes, with way the Vikings have revamped the defensive line, the addition of Captain Munnerlyn and the amount of talented defensive players taken in the draft, the Vikings have increased the talent level on defense to the point where we can expect a significant upgrade in terms of performance and results. In addition, new Head Coach Mike Zimmer brings with him a wealth of experience and results that will give new and returning players a chance to improve. There is no reason this team shouldn’t have “making the playoffs” on its list of season-long goals and expectations.

Do you think Christian Ponder has improved enough to start over Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Cassel? I think people have bashed him too much and put the blame on him when he actually played decent or well, where the defense lost us games in the last few minutes.
-- Tyler
Tampa, FL

We will know the answer to this question as the offseason program progresses and as we get into training camp and the preseason. I agree with Tyler that, at times, Ponder has taken more criticism that was warranted, but I would also submit that it’s just a part of the game when you are the quarterback of a NFL team. The bottom line is that doesn’t matter now because it’s in the past. What matters now is what happens going forward. While the Vikings did not pickup Ponder’s fifth-year option, they chose to re-sign Cassel and they drafted Bridgewater, there is no rule that says Ponder can’t perform well enough to win the starting job again.

If Jerick McKinnon makes the team and with his body of work in college as a quarterback, would you expect to see the halfback option pass used more frequently if the defensive alignment calls for it?
-- Randy S.
Mankato, MN

McKinnon’s experience playing quarterback and several other positions in college will benefit him at the NFL level. But I don’t believe having McKinnon on the roster will result in more halfback option passes. That play is a gadget play, and gadget plays just aren’t used enough in general to say that the addition of one player to the roster will result in the proliferation of trick plays.