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Mike Zimmer 'Rejuvenated' by Reinforced Vikings Defense

EAGAN, Minn. – Forget golf or relaxing on a beach. What most refreshes Mike Zimmer is signing new defensive players.

And the Vikings head coach was looking pretty revitalized Wednesday.

Zimmer spoke to Twin Cities media members for the first time since his season-ending press conference in January. He covered a number of topics, including Minnesota's number of free agency moves over the past two weeks, several of which have been on defense.

Zimmer admitted that, following a rough 2020 campaign, he felt "down in the dumps" while looking at the depth chart and considering the salary cap space he knew Minnesota would have to work with.

Quite honestly, the numbers didn't add up. But Vikings General Rick Spielman and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski have put their heads together and made things happen.

"Rob and Rick have done an unbelievable job," Zimmer said. "They've gotten me rejuvenated with the guys that they've brought in … to help, and then you've got guys like Anthony Barr who, he decides to restructure his contract because he wants to be here.

"You've got guys like Stephen Weatherly and Mackensie [Alexander] and a lot of these other guys that really want to be here – and Patrick Peterson," Zimmer said. "Those kinds of things get me excited."

Before reaching deals with any of the above players, though, the Vikings made a move to strengthen their defensive line.

The calendar had barely flipped to the new league year before Minnesota signed free agent defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. The former Giant will provide a sizeable presence alongside Michael Pierce, a 2020 free agent signee who opted out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns.

As much as Zimmer likes the duo's potential, he pointed out that Barr and fellow linebacker Eric Kendricks might benefit the most from Tomlinson and Pierce plugging up the middle.

"[Barr and Kendricks will] have two big guys, two space-eaters that have athletic ability that can win 1-on-1s, hold the double teams for those two guys," Zimmer said. "And Kendricks is another guy back that we missed the last five ballgames, too. So we've added [Danielle] Hunter, Pierce, Barr, who missed the whole year, Tomlinson, Peterson.

"It's going to look completely different when we get out there, and I'm excited about the whole crew," he added. "But those two guys specifically, they're both great guys. They're both really, really good run players who can push the pocket, and I think that's going to help."

Zimmer spoke highly not only of Tomlinson's talent but also his respected reputation.

"Everything we heard out of New York was that not only is he a great teammate who plays really well, but he was also a captain, a leader in the room and on [the Giants] defense. So we're really excited to have him," Zimmer said.

Peterson, whom the Vikings signed earlier this month, is another prime example of a high-character player who brings with him an impressive football résumé.

The All-Pro cornerback spent 10 seasons in Arizona before swapping out the Cardinals red for Vikings Purple. While some may have assumed it'd take some convincing to coax Peterson from Glendale to Minneapolis, it actually was quite the opposite. 

"It was kind of nice. He was trying to decide where he wanted to go, and he asked his agent to call me here, and I called him to talk to him about what he's looking for and some of those things," Zimmer said. "We got it done in about five hours; he was in the Bahamas with his family. It was honestly probably a really lucky break that we were able to do that. He kind of initiated wanting to come here, so I thought that was really important.

Zimmer added that he anticipates Peterson staying at corner despite some earlier rumblings about him being open to safety.

"That's what he is. He's always been a great corner," Zimmer said. "He wants to continue to get better and he wants to continue to play longer, and we're hopeful that we can help him to do that."

In fairness, rumors of a position switch for Peterson surfaced before the Vikings signed former Cowboys safety Xavier Woods, another veteran presence joining Minnesota's secondary.

Zimmer noted that he spoke with Woods over the phone and told the 25-year-old that it would be a "good situation" for him in Minnesota, where he'll be able to learn from – and potentially start alongside – All-Pro safety Harrison Smith.

"The things that we do are things he's done before [in Dallas]. Areas how we can use him in addition to Harrison," Zimmer said. "I watch all the tapes, and I think he's got another level to go to. I think he's also got a chip on his shoulder.

"I like that about guys," he added with a smile. "I like bringing in guys when other people say they're probably not good enough somewhere else."

Zimmer also pointed out Woods' familiarity with defensive backs coach Karl Scott, who coached Woods at Louisiana Tech.

"[Scott] knows him very, very well. So that's a positive," he said. "He wasn't always in the box. He played deep, he played some robber, he played a lot of different places … So he has some versatility to do all those things."

Zimmer did remind reporters, though, that he and the rest of the coaching staff still are in the puzzle-building stage. It remains to be seen exactly how the new additions (and returning additions Alexander and Weatherly) will best fit into Minnesota's defense for 2021.

"My dad used to put up, draw an 'E' and an 'X' and an 'X' – or a 'V' for the defensive linemen. So right now, these guys are just 'X's.' We're trying figure out where we can use each one of these guys," Zimmer said. "What can [Jeff] Gladney do different? We've talked about things with him. What can Mackensie do? We've talked about things with him. What if we decide to play more DBs? There are so many options that we have.

"Right now, they're just puzzle pieces and we're just trying to fit them in as best we can," he added. "It might be a lot of different packages."