EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings players and coaches are adjusting to a new "normal" amid the COVID-19 pandemic while also moving forward in preparation for the 2020 season.
Which means that rookies and veterans alike are settling into a routine that includes virtual position and team meetings and at-home workouts in place of voluntary organized team activity sessions at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke with Twin Cities media members via video conference Wednesday from his Zimmer Ridge Ranch in Kentucky. He acknowledged that the current situation creates the biggest challenges for first-year players.
"With the rookies, you get to spend more time on the field with them, typically," Zimmer said. "These kind of OTAs that we might end up missing, we can catch that up in whatever time [the NFL allots us]."
He explained that players are given an install along with a video of drills they need to work on, depending on position.
"For instance, if you're a linebacker, it's your drops and responsibilities," Zimmer said. "We try to give them all those things they can work on on their own, along with their conditioning stuff. We're trying to make it more position-specific for how we get them ready.
"The unfortunate part is that if they're doing it wrong, we can't correct it unless they [film] it," he added.
Zimmer did say that although the rookies are behind based on the circumstances, the virtual meetings have been going well for all parties.
He schedules offensive meetings to take place first, followed by special teams and then by defense, and he's able to "join" position meetings from his own computer at will.
"I can click on a room and listen to the quarterbacks and the wide receivers. I can click on a room and listen to the offensive line or the whole group. Then I can go to special teams. I can go to the different positions on the defense," Zimmer said. "I've been really impressed with the way the coaches have been teaching, the details they're talking about, the concepts and ideas of why we're trying to run this or that."
Are certain positions more hindered by the lack of in-person practices?
Zimmer emphasized that the entire team would benefit from hands-on coaching; he's looking forward to being at that point eventually because, as he explained, each position comes with its own set of technicalities.
That being said, however, there is a difference between the ways offensive and defensive players prepare.
"Whether it's the receiver's route depth or how he runs the route … we can talk to them about getting lined up or being in the right formation and plays and running the right route," Zimmer said. "But having the timing with Kirk [Cousins], hearing the cadence and all the things when they get ready to snap the ball [is important]."
On the defensive side, it's more about reactions, which Zimmer pointed out is harder to simulate in a solo setting. And he later added that it's tough to improve coverage skills without practicing them with another person.
"It's really hard when they're by themselves and they're not able to really work on the skill of covering a receiver," Zimmer said. "The receivers can run routes all day long, and it's pretty simple for them. Running backs, it's pretty simple for them. But defensively because of the reactions … all those things become more difficult when you're by yourself."
But while certain aspects of practicing maybe be challenged by stay-at-home orders, Zimmer feels confident in the players' ability to continue training and stay in-shape during this time.
The NFLPA allowed teams to send workout directives to players, so the Vikings took advantage of that opportunity. And while most, if not all, public gyms are closed, most players have the necessary space or at-home amenities to keep up their regimens.
"A lot of these guys have their own gym at their house – I know Riley [Reiff] does, and a bunch of other guys. There's very few guys who don't have enough space," Zimmer said. "We checked with all the players, and I think there was one player who has a small condo yard, and that's really all he's got.
"Mark Uyeyama, our strength coach, has done a really good job of adapting what they can do without weights, whether it's pushups, pushing a vehicle," Zimmer continued. "It is a contact sport, and at some point we have to get our bodies conditioned to the contact [aspect] – whether it's a speed bag or a punching bag or whatever that is. I think Mark's done a good job with that."