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Mike Zimmer Praises Defensive Effort Despite 5 Missing Starters

MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings first-team defense wasn't at full strength Saturday night.

But that unit still showed plenty of positives, even with some big names standing on the sideline.

"Defensively, without the five starters playing, I thought they did a nice job," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "We've still got to tackle better than what we did at the beginning.

"I thought [Bashaud] Breeland made some nice plays," Zimmer added. "And then I thought the backup defensive players played a lot better tonight than what we did a week ago."

The Vikings didn't allow a touchdown in the 12-10 loss to the Colts. That was an improvement from the preseason opener, when the Vikings backups allowed three touchdowns through the air to the Broncos.

View game action photos of the Vikings during the primetime preseason game against the Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium.

And, it was Minnesota's defense that actually scored the Vikings lone touchdown of the night.

That highlight came late in the first quarter when Troy Dye grabbed the pigskin off a deflection and cruised 33 yards to the end zone.

It was Breeland who started the play by getting a pass breakup in coverage on Parris Campbell.

Dye broke down the play:

"BB [Breeland] made a great play on the ball and tipped it up in the air. I went up and high-pointed it with nobody around me," Dye said. "Had some great blocks — fantastic blocks — by everyone on the defense so I can't take all the credit. Everyone was out there making moves to make it easier for me to get into the end zone.

"I think it was a great feeling to put some points on the board for the defense. That's what we preach a lot during the week — creating turnovers and scoring points," Dye added. "At the end of the day, if you can add onto the scoreboard then you have a pretty good chance. It was a great defensive effort on that touchdown. Shout out to all the guys for those blocks."

Dye was among a handful of linebackers who stood out at times. That group also included position mates Nick Vigil (who had a pass breakup) and Chazz Surratt (who was credited with a team-high nine tackles).

Zimmer challenged that group last week and liked the way the responded, even if it wasn't a perfect effort.

"Yeah, they did better tonight. Vigil, I think he had one play that he wasn't as precise on. The backup guys played a lot better than they did before," Zimmer said. "Dye obviously did some good things. They're still making little bitty mistakes that we have to try to correct.

"Surratt, I thought he did some good things," Zimmer added. "He tried to run through underneath a block and got blocked one time. Just trying to think off the top off my head."

The two young linebackers said there is still room to grow heading into the preseason finale Friday in Kansas City.

"Overall, the second-string guys came in there and wanted to improve from last week," Surratt said. "That was a big emphasis. So to come out there and put up a better performance was a high.

"Me, I made some mistakes I have to get better at," Surratt added. "Ready to go in and watch some film tomorrow, on Monday with the team, and try to learn from those mistakes and try to get better."

Dye added: "I think as a unit we did really well. We have to clean up some things, but overall, pretty happy with the performance today."

Zimmer also said he liked what he saw in one quarter of play from defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson.

"It really is hard for me to see, but I thought we did a good job stopping the run," Zimmer said. "I assume they were a big part of it."

As for the stars who did not play Saturday night, that list was made up of defensive end Danielle Hunter, linebacker Anthony Barr, cornerback Patrick Peterson and safeties Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods.

Zimmer said since that group has plenty of experience, he might consider holding them out Friday night against the Chiefs.

"I almost played Peterson a little bit tonight, and I kept Harrison Smith out," Zimmer said. "Xavier Woods had a little nick and didn't really want to risk it, and same thing with Barr.

"And Danielle, I think Danielle probably needs to play a little bit. I'll try and get his opinion on where he thinks he's at, but he hasn't played in a year," Zimmer added. "And Barr, he's missed a lot of time as well. So we'll just try and sit down this week and figure it out."

Zimmer also provided a bit of an update on Barr, who hasn't practiced in the past two-plus weeks. Zimmer said his injury is not related to the torn pectoral the linebacker suffered in Week 2 in Indianapolis that caused him to miss nearly all of the 2020 season.

"He's a concern, a little bit with his health," Zimmer said. "We're taking him with real kid gloves, but we miss him out there. We can do so many different things with him. He does a great job of communicating with everybody, but we're just being cautious with him."

Minnesota allowed 288 total yards on 72 plays (4.0 yards per play), and limited Indianapolis to just six third-down conversions on 17 attempts.