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Talkers: Vikings Linebackers Rising to Challenge from Coaching Staff

EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings linebackers group rebounded Saturday night against the Colts after struggling the previous week against Denver.

Viking Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Adam Zimmer spoke with Twin Cities media members Tuesday and said they'd challenged the position group to improve.

"We were making too many mistakes early in camp so we challenged them. We're having extra walk-throughs, and now we're in the right position and now it makes it easier to make plays," Zimmer said. "You can fly around to the ball and you're thinking, 'Oh, I should be here; I'm missing a line here, so I'm cut out of my gap. Now that I'm in the right spot, I can play fast.'

"That's why we have all these guys that can run or are athletic because that's what we need from the linebackers," Zimmer added.

The linebackers have demonstrated both good and bad throughout training camp, and they've also been without starter Anthony Barr, who is working on rehabbing an undisclosed injury.

On top of Barr being sidelined, Cam Smith announced his retirement from football last week.

"Hopefully we have [Barr] Week 1. If not, we'll have somebody step in and play for us," Zimmer said.

Who will that someone be?

Zimmer said that won't be determined just yet but added the team has options, whether playing a different defensive package or rolling with a reserve linebacker.

"Troy [Dye has] played multiple positions for us before. Chaz [Surratt] can play multiple positions," Zimmer said. "And I thought Blake [Lynch] did a nice job the other night against the Colts. It was his best performance since we've had him. So we'll find a role and find the best way to match up in our base personnel that way."

Quote of the Day

"It's like I told him, I watched him play [in Dallas and Detroit] not to see whether we wanted to bring him in here; I watched him play through the season last year, because of my relationship with him. And I told him it hurt my heart, right? You paint a Picasso, right, and somebody else copies it and messes it up? It hurts you to the core of your body. So that's how I saw it. And he was one of my Picassos. So to look at him, and how he was rushing there, totally different than what he did here. So that's how I felt about it."

– Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson on the return of Everson Griffen

2 More Points

Here are two other takeaways from Tuesday's media session.

1. K.J. Osborn filling in at multiple spots

The Vikings have dealt with a rash of injuries among receivers. Veteran Bisi Johnson, who is well-versed with every receiver position in Minnesota's offense, and undrafted rookie Blake Proehl suffered knee injuries.

Justin Jefferson has been working his way back from a shoulder injury — and showing encouraging progress by participating in practice Monday while wearing a red, no-contact jersey. Adam Thielen took a knee to his thigh on Saturday against the Colts, ending his night early and sidelining him Monday.

K.J. Osborn responded with an impressive catch in Monday's practice after fighting through coverage by Patrick Peterson.

Vikings coaches have been happy with what they've seen from Osborn. But there's room to grow, too.

The former Miami standout appeared only on special teams last season but has been flashing on offense this summer.

"K.J. has had a solid camp," Vikings Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak said. "He's still improving, and he can still get a whole lot better. He's had his days where he's been great, and he's had some where he hasn't been as good, but [wide receivers coach Keenan] McCardell has worked really hard with him, and I've seen his game take another step this training camp.

"We've got a lot of trust in him," Kubiak added. "He can play multiple positions, and he's a very intelligent player. He's smart, and the details matter to him. With a player at wide receiver, they have to because you have to play so many spots. So I'm pleased with his work habits."

2. Playing fast & not using 'the T word'

It's not unusual to hear NFL coaches use the phrase "play fast," and Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken is no exception.

But what does that mean, exactly, and how does one coach it?

Ficken explained more about the concept and how he specifically applies it on special teams.

"We've got to emphasize it, which I think we're doing a good job with that. Coach [Zimmer] is doing a great job of pointing things out, but the big thing is we've got to keep it simple for these guys," Ficken said. 'I've got to limit the thinking on them. We pretty much say we're not using the 'T word' — think. 'I thought this,' or 'I thought he was going to do this.'

"No, we want to make sure we're just covering, we're rolling and just letting those guys — they're naturally athletic — use their God-given ability to take over and let them make plays," Ficken continued. 'That's our job, just kind of trimming it down for them so they can go play fast."