EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings were supposed to be playing their first preseason game tonight.
Instead, they're taking the field at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for the first full-team practice of Verizon Vikings Training Camp.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the offseason landscape, including the transition to virtual programming and the cancelation of all four exhibition games.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke with media members via video conference Friday morning and was asked about the loss of a full preseason. He said it does "present some problems" because teams will miss out on the live contact against opponents.
It especially affects younger players, who typically would take the bulk of preseason snaps.
View photos of Vikings players who participated in workouts at TCO Performance Center.
"That, plus trying to get a team game-ready in a short amount of time without a lot of games," Zimmer said. "They always say that you improve the most from your first to second game because you get a chance to evaluate and look at things and change some things that aren't working. We won't have that luxury this year, so we're going to have to get going fast.
"I'll probably have some younger-player 'games' in practice, where they've got to go play games, maybe a quarter or a half or something like that," he added. "We may end up doing it on two fields, so we've got one group going on one field, one group going on another."
Does the cancelation of preseason games also affect Zimmer and his process of shaking the rust off as a play-caller?
"A little bit," although Zimmer noted he typically does not call all four preseason games.
"I'm going to have to call some during practice just so I can get back in rhythm a little bit," Zimmer said. "I've thought about that, as well, as far as some situations in practice I'll just go ahead and call the defense, and some of them I'll let [Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson] call, and some of them I'll let [Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer] call."
Here are four other topics Zimmer addressed during his session with media:
1. Leaning a little on Week 17
Last year's regular-season finale felt a little like a preseason game.
Having already clinched a playoff berth, the Vikings sat a majority of their starters and gave young players a chance to see significant game action.
Zimmer said it "helped a lot" in evaluating some players they hadn't yet seen much game-day film on. They'll be able to lean somewhat on that tape as they prepare for this year's regular season, which is set to kick off Sept. 13 against Green Bay.
"We at least got a look at these guys and how they improved from when they came in to the end of the year," Zimmer said. "There's quite a few guys who ended up playing in that ballgame that actually did a pretty good job. [Olisaemeka] Udoh got to play a lot against good pass rushers in that game. Those are the guys I'm excited about seeing today. Like Holton Hill, some of the others, [Aviante] Collins, some of the offensive linemen and how they have improved.
"The other part is how much they have matured," Zimmer continued. "One of the things I've noticed the last few days with these young guys is some of the second-year players have matured as far as how they act and what they are trying to do and how they are paying attention to learning and we'll see how it carries over."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
2. Approach to the O-line
The Vikings are returning four of their five offensive line starters from last season.
The departure of Josh Kline left a vacancy at right guard, and there's been speculation on whether or not both guard spots could be shaken up.
Considering the truncated training camp, how will coaches balance evaluation of new combinations on the line with trusting veterans who already are comfortable in the system?
"We've talked about that. Some of the things that we're looking at right now, we're going to look at for a few days. And then after a few days, we're going to settle in and start getting going with where we're at," Zimmer said. "But some of the backups have to play both sides anyway, so they're going to have to be traveling to different spots.
"We're going to try to make a quick decision with some of these offensive linemen," he added. "Probably after three days in pads or something like that."
3. Evaluation of RBs room
Zimmer once again spoke highly of running back Dalvin Cook, calling the 25-year-old a "great person" and complimenting his role on the team.
"He's a really good leader in the offensive room, he's good with all his teammates, he loves to play the game of football," Zimmer said. "I think he's done a good job."
He later was asked about the running backs room as a whole and offered an equal level of praise.
"I think it's a good group. Alexander Mattison is a really good back. Mike Boone, when he's gone in there, he's done well. Ameer Abdullah's done a nice job on special teams and when he's been in the game in certain packages," Zimmer said. "And then you've got Dalvin, who's a terrific back. C.J. Ham is an excellent fullback. So that combination is probably one of our stronger groups."
4. Let the young CBs play
Zimmer wants his young cornerbacks to be fully focused on their on-field performance.
With the loss of starting corners Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, Zimmer was asked if he'd like to see some of the fresher-faced corners step into more of a leadership role this season.
"Not really," he responded, instead pointing to safeties Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith in the defensive backs room.
"We have two veteran safeties, and those guys are smart, they can handle all the different adjustments and checks and things," Zimmer said. "I'm more concerned about these young corners going about their business, learning how to play so they don't have to worry about making too many calls or being a leader, they just have to go out and play.
"Let the safeties take care of the leadership and communication and those kinds of things," Zimmer added. "We have enough leaders on defense that these young corners don't have to mess around with that."