EAGAN, Minn. – Chalk up another curveball for 2020.
The Vikings have been adjusting over the past two days to uncertainty and an altered schedule after multiple members of the Titans organization tested positive for COVID-19.
Being that the Vikings thus far have had no positive tests and remain scheduled to play the Texans on Sunday at noon, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his staff have been busy the past two days with virtual game-planning (Tuesday) and team meetings (Wednesday) before hopefully returning to the practice field Thursday.
"Different protocols, a lot of information-gathering from our COVID [committee] and from the league," Zimmer told media members via video conference Wednesday evening. "But it's been good. We had good meetings today."
Zimmer is optimistic that productive virtual classroom time will translate to effective on-field work during a truncated week.
"We're going to try and get in everything that we normally get in. We had to push back our days a little bit with some of the testing we have to do now," Zimmer said. "You know, we had basically all day to meet with the players today … What we'll do is have a little less meeting time, and a little more walk-through and practice time in the next couple days."
When asked about having to game-plan remotely, Zimmer said it hasn't caused too much of a hurdle because he and the coaching staff have become so well-accustomed to the virtual environment.
"We were able to communicate and really watch tape on our iPads. That wasn't too bad, honestly," he explained. "Probably if we [hadn't done it this way] in the spring, it would have been a lot more hectic than it was."
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Texans.
Here are four more topics Zimmer covered during his media availability:
1. No room for excuses
Standing at 0-3 and looking for their first win of the 2020 season, the Vikings would have preferred to head into Week 4 without this kind of hiccup.
And yet, the team won't be making an excuses.
Zimmer emphasized that they've had to adjust meeting and practice schedules on weeks when they've played a non-Sunday game. At this point, their only focus is readying to play Houston.
Speaking of Houston, do the Texans now have a competitive advantage due to essentially gaining an "extra" day of practice over the Vikings?
Zimmer explained why Houston was not required to shut down its facility and even the playing field, per se.
"[The NFL has] had other games that other teams have had to move for hurricanes and different things that were unaccounted for," he said, "so the precedent has been set that those other teams went about their business and the [affected] team had to figure out a way to survive and move forward. That's kind of the precedent that they set, so that's what it is."
2. Respect for Watson and Co.
The Texans have had a similarly disappointing start to their season, but the Vikings understand that their 0-3 record doesn't necessarily tell the whole story.
Zimmer offered high praise for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, a first-round draft pick (12th overall) in 2017.
"I heard his college coach (Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney) describe him as Michael Jordan, and you see a lot of those qualities," Zimmer said of Watson. "The way that he can run and how strong he is, how strong of an arm he has, the things that they can do with him. He's really a special, special player.
"They've got outstanding speed at all the receivers," he added. "I feel like, you know, they give you a lot of open-up formations, a lot of different things that you have to prepare for, which makes it tough for us in a week like this. We had really good virtual meetings today, so I'm hoping that it carries over tomorrow on the practice field."
3. Evaluation of the youngsters
Not only does Zimmer have more young players to evaluate on defense due to turnover on that side of the ball this offseason, but he also is doing so without the audition tape of preseason games.
He called it "always a work in progress" to be assessing the less-experienced players and finding out exactly what they can do when called upon.
"I think we're learning a lot more about what these guys are and who they are," Zimmer said. "I've got a thing on my phone that pops up, 'How do we win with this team?' I have to remember that last year's team isn't this year's team, and these guys can do different things than what we had a year ago.
"And then you have to figure in the injuries, 'This guy has missed two games. This guy has missed one game. OK, what do these new guys have to do?' " he continued. "I do think it's kind of an ongoing process of trying to learn about, 'The next player that steps in, how can we determine his role and how he can help us?' "
Perhaps no Vikings position group has had to learn – and be evaluated – quite as quickly this season as the cornerbacks.
With the departure of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander after last season, Minnesota is relying on a combination of rookies and young corners without many starts on their résumé. And on top of that, they've already dealt with injuries to Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd and third-round pick Cam Dantzler.
In past years, Minnesota's depth at the cornerback spot has allowed Zimmer to more slowly bring along the newbies. But he isn't afforded that luxury this season.
"Some guys have to get thrown in by fire because they're the best ones at the time, and some other ones have a veteran guy in front of them. Our process-wise this year is we have young guys, so they've got to get in there," Zimmer explained. "At the end of the day, it's going to be better for them because they're learning every week. These guys, the first time you go out and play, it's against [Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers, and it's your first taste of NFL football.
"They're going to continue to get better. They're showing signs of getting better all of the time," he added. "Unfortunately, today was virtual, so they didn't show much today, but tomorrow, and as the season goes on, they'll keep progressing."
4. Confidence in COVID protocols
Despite the added stressors this week, Zimmer expressed gratitude for those around him helping everything continue running relatively smoothly.
He said Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman, who also is serving as the team's Infection Control Officer, has done "an outstanding job," along with General Manager Rick Spielman, of making sure things are done the right way.
"All the people in our building," Zimmer added. "This happened, unfortunately to us, but not because of us. But it is what it is, and we have to deal with it. I think moving forward … they told us all along there was going to be positive tests and so on and so forth as we go throughout the season. But for us to be able to get through — hopefully we get through this week — but get through this week and play the game, I think it kind of shows we can get through it, yeah."
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