It was Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's turn to take the media tour at the 2016 Scouting Combine on Thursday. He met with local beat writers, PFT's Mike Florio and Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen. But he also took the podium inside the Combine media center. Here are five takeaways from Zimmer's annual Combine press conference.
1. Teddy's time
Teddy Bridgewater was the starting quarterback of a team that won 11 games and a division title in 2015. Yet many are calling for more from him in Year 3, largely because he hasn't produced the type of box scores the fantasy football culture desires.
That sentiment isn't lost on Vikings leadership. They, too, are expecting more from Bridgewater. But they aren't looking for gaudy numbers necessarily. Their measure of Bridgewater's improvement will be much less tangible, but far more important.
"At the end of the day, when I come back here next year, if I'm still here, what I want to say is 'Teddy took over this offense. He was really in charge of everything he did here.' Whatever that means…if it's getting us in the right play, if it's throwing the ball more, if it's throwing the ball less, taking charge of this thing because it's going to be his baby eventually."
2. Handcuffing Harrison Smith
Harrison Smith is one of the best safeties in the NFL and his dynamic skill set makes him a great fit for Zimmer's defense. Multiple players have lined up as the starting safety next to Smith during Zimmer's tenure in Minnesota, but no one has taken the bull by the horns and locked up that position. Once that happens, though, Zimmer says Smith can be an even better player for the Vikings.
"If Harrison Smith was paired with a guy that had some other qualities, we could allow Harrison to be more of an impactful player," Zimmer said. "I think Harrison could be more impactful if he had the right kind of person next to him."
Zimmer said he doesn't yet know if that player is already on his roster. That leaves open the possibility that a current Viking could ascend to that role, but it also means the Vikings may have their eyes open for an option here at the Combine or in the free agent market.
3. Strong defense a product of collaboration
On Wednesday, Vikings GM Rick Spielman praised Zimmer and his coaching staff for the way they've worked with young players to get them immersed in the defense and part of a talented, young corps of players. On Thursday, Zimmer returned the favor by crediting Spielman and his staff for finding talented players to put in front of the coaching staff.
"Rick, and not just Rick. We have a great group of scouts," Zimmer said. "I've been so fortunate to come into this situation with so many guys that have helped me along the way. (Scott) Studwell and Jamaal Stephenson, George Paton and obviously Rick runs that whole deal.
"Finding these guys and being able to give us talent to work with has been really good. I think we have a good nucleus of defensive guys. We aren't anywhere near where I want to be yet, but you can see the development of these football players."
Zimmer continued explaining that the communication and teamwork between the coaches and scouts is sound.
"It takes a collective effort with the scouts and the coaches in order to say 'These are the kind of guys that fit with what you do' and maybe they don't fit but how can you use them to help this football team get better," he said. "I think that's what we've done a little bit defensively. I think we have a good collective group of communication between the scouts and coaches."
4. Tempering free agent expectations
The Vikings have had some success in the free agent market of late, with signings such as DTs Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph and CBs Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman all playing important roles. But the Vikings have been and will remain prudent in their free agent dealings, choosing instead to build through the draft while using free agency to supplement.
Zimmer didn't say anything on Thursday that indicates the Vikings will stray from that philosophy.
"I really like my football team right now," Zimmer said. "I like the way they work, their mentality, the way they do things, and if we can continue to add players that have our vision and where we can see them fitting in, then I think it's great."
When it does come time to find a free agent, though, Zimmer explained the benefit of signing players who've played for him in the past, as he did with Newman right around this time last year.
"When you're messing around in free agency, I think the more you know a player the better chance you have of being correct," Zimmer said. "And so for me, a lot of it has been familiarity. Not only me knowing them, but them knowing me and how I am, too."
5. Rhodes channeling his inner power forward
One of Zimmer's higher-profile pupils of late has been CB Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings took Rhodes in the 1st round of the 2013 draft and he's progressed steadily over three seasons, but he's taken significant steps under the direction of Zimmer. The progress hasn't been without a hiccup here or there, though, but that hasn't shaken Zimmer's confidence in the young CB.
"I'd say early in the year he struggled a little bit with some of the penalties and that caused him to be conservative in the way he played," Zimmer explained. "Like I told him during the season, he needs to be a power forward, not a point guard. You have to be who you are, and his game is about power and strength and physicality.
"He's a good kid. He's got an awful lot of ability. And he's got a chance to be a very good corner in this League."
On the topic of CBs, Zimmer also spoke about last year's 1st round pick – Trae Waynes.
"I think he's got a chance to be a very good player," Zimmer said. "Quite honestly, I think it was a good situation for him to play special teams, play a little bit this year, be a part-time player, because of the fact he's had a chance to learn from a great veteran guy in (Terence) Newman.
"It's not about athletic ability with him, it's just some of the learning the game of professional football."