EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jon Gruden has been able to enjoy preparing to see the Vikings defense more than most offensive minds have this season.
The amount film study preparation that the ESPN *Monday Night Football *analyst does for games each week rivals that of current coaches.
Once a coach, always a coach. But Gruden isn't responsible for finding a way past a defense that is allowing 13.3 points per game tonight. That's up to Ben McAdoo and the New York Giants.
Gruden was head coach of the Raiders from 1998-2001 and the Buccaneers from 2002-08. During those tenures, he coached against Mike Zimmer a total of five times when Zimmer was defensive coordinator with the Cowboys (2000-06), Falcons (2007) and Bengals. Gruden's teams totaled a 4-1 mark, but he has tremendous respect for Zimmer, who was hired by the Vikings in 2014.
"He's one of the bad guys in my life," Gruden joked on Saturday. "He's a defensive guy, and I was an offensive guy. I've competed against him in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas. He's tough. He's an excellent coach. I've got a lot of respect for him.
"He worked with my brother [Jay] in Cincinnati when they were coordinators. He gets the most out of his people," Gruden added. "He puts them in good positions and he's demanding. He's really not a sugarcoat coach. He's not going to tell you something to make you feel good about yourself."
Gruden said he was impressed watching the Vikings practice and the personnel that Zimmer is able to deploy, specifically mentioning the large presences of Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, as well as the pass-rushing talent the Vikings have with Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter.
Gruden said Zimmer is calling on his "vast background" with the Vikings, including the double-A gap blitz look that Minnesota frequently shows with Barr and Eric Kendricks flanking the center before snaps. Each or both can blitz or bluff from that position.
"He was with Bill Parcells for a while. He was in a 4-3 defense. He went to Atlanta, and all he did was blitz," Zimmer said. "He went to Cincinnati, and I really give him credit for being the doctor of the double-A cannon blitz in the world. You think Buddy Ryan, you think of the Bear defense, Monty Kiffin, the over defense. When you think Zimmer, you think about this double-A package. It's a signature of his, and he has really put the Vikings in a real good position.
"Everybody has that look, but nobody has the volume that he has," Gruden said. "I think he empowers his players during these blitz situations to check in and out of different types of blitzes based on what they see and hear. They're good."
Gruden delivered $2,000 grants to Minneapolis North, Como Park, Red Lake and Eden Valley-Watkins high schools on Saturday during a chalk talk and clinic at Winter Park. He told the teams' players and coaches that sports can teach "lessons you can't get anywhere else" and how to overcome adversities.
He told Vikings.com that Zimmer has done a good job of leading the Vikings through a period of adversity when they lost Teddy Bridgewater eight days before the season started, followed by injuries to Adrian Peterson and Matt Kalil.
"I can't imagine that. Losing your starting quarterback before your first game, having the courage to make a trade, getting criticized all week because 'you gave up too much,' you lose a Hall of Fame running back, your left tackle, one of your best defensive linemen [Sharrif Floyd], and you've got to open up a new stadium that you're not familiar with, there's a lot of distractions, but credit this coaching staff and credit the players, too. They don't blink. They just keep playing, and they're arguably playing the best football in the league right now.
When asked about obstacles that his team overcame, Gruden joked, "All my teams had to overcome me, and that's overcoming a lot."
"I put our guys in some tough situations, but honestly when I was in Oakland, we had to overcome some negatives," Gruden said. "We weren't a very good team that first year. In Tampa, we had never won a game in cold weather in the franchise's history. We had to win in Chicago to make the playoffs, we had to win at Philadelphia to make it to the Super Bowl.
"There's always negatives that you have to overcome: losing players, guys holding out, weather, you name it," Gruden continued, "but the Vikings have probably withstood more adversity in the first month of the season and gone undefeated than any team I've ever seen."