EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –In addition to leading rookies through meetings and on-field instruction, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer took the podium Friday for a session with reporters about minicamp.
Vikings draft picks, undrafted free agents and players invited on a tryout basis held their first walkthrough practice Friday morning after arriving at Winter Park Thursday.
Out-of-state rookies received a warm – pun intended – welcome to Minnesota and enjoyed practicing in the first 85-degree day in the Twin Cities in quite a while. Zimmer looked comfortable in a polo and sunglasses but maintained his all-business demeanor.
With the concern of preseason rookie injuries, a couple of NFL teams decided against holding full minicamps for first-year players this spring. After Dante Fowler, Jr. tore his ACL on the first day of minicamp in 2015, the Jaguars announced they have replaced the full on-field workouts with a "rookie orientation" instead. The Dolphins are also removing on-field activities from their rookie minicamp itinerary.
Zimmer was asked about those teams' decisions. He said he feels strongly about maintaining the Vikings minicamp as usual.
"It is important for me to see the [players], and I want to see them," Zimmer said. "I understand that some teams are not doing anything, but I don't think you can be scared. You have to do what you want to do, and I like watching them on the field in practice. We are going to continue to do that and hope we don't get anybody hurt."
Here are four more takeaways from Zimmer's press conference:
1. Mackensie Alexander's role
When asked if Zimmer expects to play second-round pick Mackensie Alexander in more of a nickel back role based on his size, Zimmer said he doesn't want to pigeonhole Alexander.
"I see [Mackensie] as a defensive back – a corner and a nickel cornerback," Zimmer said. "Maybe there is a misinterpretation of size, but 5-10 ½ is prototype, and he is 5-10.3, so he is not a little guy. He is a smaller defensive back compared to some of the 6-footers."
Zimmer also pointed out that veteran cornerback Trae Waynes is 5-10.4.
2. Depth of 2016 roster
Zimmer acknowledged that this year's roster will contain more depth and more competition than in recent years, considering almost of the 2015 players are returning. When asked if that makes it less likely for new players to make the team, however, Zimmer said that's not necessarily the case.
"I hate to assume anything, but we do have a more talented team now than when I first got here," Zimmer said. "But even then, last year six rookies made a big contribution. We had two undrafted free agents make the team. I think it's good competition. We talked about it with the offensive line, trying to create more competition here. Maybe some of these guys will send some other guys home, I don't know."
3. Positioning players
Although Zimmer might occasionally move players around or see how they fit at different positions, he said it's rare to do that during the three-day minicamp.
"We try to put them in one spot and leave them alone," Zimmer said. "The worst thing to do is take a guy and try to evaluate him on having to learn a new position or two or three positions. It is just hard to do. We are not trying to mess with them mentally at all, just have them do what they have been doing."
4. Making observations on Moritz
Moritz Boehringer, who made history as the first player to ever be drafted straight from Europe, made his debut in a Vikings practice jersey. Zimmer offered first impressions on the German wide receiver following walk-through.
"[I'm] just kind of watching how he learns, how he moves," Zimmer said. "From what I saw today, he's a pretty good athlete. Obviously he's going to have to learn – the biggest thing for these guys is learning terminology. That's hard right from the start, but that's not any different from him or anybody else. I evaluate him the same way and just look at him and watch [his] athletic skills – the way he catches the ball, the way he runs routes."
Back to business as usual, Zimmer also emphasized that he wants Boehringer to remain grounded and focused on football after fairytale-like story was so well received over the past week.
"I want to kind of end the story, to be honest with you," Zimmer said. "I want him to be here playing football and not being a celebrity. I've given him a hard time already about being on TV shows and stuff like that. It's football now, and it's time to work. The feel-good story is over."