EAGAN, Minn. — Dom Capers is entering his 34th overall season in the NFL, where the 70-year-old has spent almost half of his life.
The oldest Vikings assistant is in his first season with the team — with the official title of senior defensive assistant — and is navigating a season of firsts due to the pandemic.
"They always say that if you stay in a business long enough, you'll see everything," Capers said with a chuckle on a videoconference with the Twin Cities media on Tuesday.
"It's been a new experience. I think it probably is for everybody in the league. This is 34 years for me in the league, and this is the first time going through this schedule," Capers also added. "Obviously, it places a sense of urgency on everything you do because you know you don't have any preseason games. Every time you're on the practice field you're looking to see what kind of improvements you're making. The ultimate goal is to be at our best in that first game, and we don't have preseason games to use as evaluations."
Capers has a long and storied NFL career, beginning as the Saints defensive backs coach from 1986 to 1991. He then spent the ensuing 15 seasons as a head coach or defensive coordinator, earning a reputation as one of the league's top defensive minds. Capers also holds the distinction of being the first head coach of two different expansion teams (Panthers and Texans).
And after spending the 2008 season in New England, Capers spent the next nine seasons as the defensive coordinator in Green Bay, where he saw plenty of current Vikings players up close.
But there isn't any bad blood between Capers and the Vikings, just plenty of mutual respect.
In fact, that's why Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer added Capers to his staff this offseason, as it was a chance to bring an esteemed voice to the staff.
"I just felt like he's seen a lot of different things as far as defenses throughout the league, a new voice in the room to give some new ideas," Zimmer said. "Really, that was it. I thought it worked really well with Gary [Kubiak on the offensive side] the year prior.
"And so, I was kind of looking for just some ideas," Zimmer added. "Once you've been doing it for six years here and 20-some years somewhere else, it's just nice to hear the way other defenses do things.''
Capers, too, jumped at the chance to work with Zimmer, who much like himself, is known around the league as an innovator with defensive schemes.
"I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for Mike. I've followed his defenses, you know, from Dallas to Cincinnati and then, of course, watching what he's done with the defense here since he's been with the Vikings," Capers said. "So, I enjoy that very much and have great respect in what he's been able to do here with the system, it's been tremendous over its tenure.
"I just enjoy being around those conversations and getting to know the smaller intricacies of what the Vikings have done," Capers added. "Hopefully somewhere in there I'll be able to add a little bit here or there, but Mike knows what he wants to do, and he's done it extremely well."
Hiring Kubiak, who coincidentally followed Capers as head coach in Houston in 2006, provided Zimmer a sounding board and players an incredible resource to lean on throughout the season.
That's certainly been the case so far in training camp, as Zimmer has tasked Capers with helping develop a young Vikings secondary. Of the 15 players currently in that group, 11 have two or fewer years of NFL experience.
One of them is rookie safety Josh Metellus, who was a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Michigan.
"Dom is amazing," Metellus said on Tuesday's Vikings Training Camp Live show. "From the first day, Coach [Zimmer] made sure we knew that Dom has been in the league for a long time and has been around football for a long time.
"It's the little things with Dom," Metellus added. "You'll have a rep, and he'll pull you to the side after that rep and coach you up on some things. It's just having that person who has seen it all, just be there for you and help you progress at the next level."
Capers has said he enjoys the challenge of working with the likes of Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler halfway through camp.
"I like our young guys. … I think they're talented physically and I think they're like sponges," Capers said. "They want to pick up everything they possibly can. I like their competitiveness. It's not an easy transition to go from college ball to the NFL and pick up the speed of the game.
"These guys, I think you'll see them get better as we go along," Capers added. "They have made a lot of progress in the short time we've had them on the practice field. The challenge is going to be having them up to speed and ready to go at the start of the season."
The Vikings are the ninth organization that Capers has worked for in his 34-season tenure in the league.
And as with every year, Capers is ready for the roller-coaster ride that is each NFL season, even if this one looks and feels a little different.
"I still enjoy it," Capers said. "If I ever reach a point that I don't enjoy the competitiveness of trying to get guys ready to play and go out and compete … I don't know how you replace those three hours on Sunday. Because you come away feeling really good, or not very good at all.
"I don't know what you replace that with. As long as I enjoy the competitiveness, I think it keeps you young being around these young players – watching these new guys come in and watching them develop is very rewarding," Capers added. "And, I enjoy the game. It's a lot of years of doing it, but I think as long as you still enjoy it – and hopefully you have a little bit to contribute – then you stay in it."