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Monday Morning Mailbag: Defensive Personnel, Team's Mental Toughness, More

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I saw an interview with Coach Zimmer right before the draft and he mentioned possibly running a four-cornerback scheme in the future. Have you seen any evidence of that and would it make sense?
-- Paul P.
Seattle, WA

Every team uses a personnel grouping that includes four cornerbacks and two safeties; this is commonly referred to as dime personnel. What would be different, and what I think Paul is referring to here, is to use four cornerbacks with one safety. It wouldn’t surprise me to see coach Zimmer get creative like this. I remember when the Vikings played at Cincinnati in 2013, with Zimmer as their defensive coordinator, and the Bengals used a personnel grouping with three safeties. He’s not afraid to get creative and exotic at times. Given the depth the Vikings are building at cornerback with yet another first-rounder in Mike Hughes joining the group, a four-corner look may be in the offing.

How is Ben Gedeon doing at outside linebacker? Are there any players stepping up to challenge him for his starting role from last season?
-- Matt Soenen
Rockwell City, IA

There are players on the roster who will challenge Gedeon, but I expect he will continue on his ascending trajectory and remain a starter in base defense. Gedeon left the field in sub package situations last year, but don’t let that fool you because he was strong in base defense. He was particularly good against the run and he can also cover a little better than advertised. With Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks returning, it’s hard to see Gedeon getting a ton of reps in sub packages, but you never know. With the progress he’s shown so far after a strong rookie season, you couldn’t blame the coaching staff for wanting to see the second-year pro on the field a little bit more this season.

Are the Vikings working on mental toughness and mental stamina for 2018? How do you do this so the team doesn't have let downs? Do the coaches also work on this so they don't get complacent and predictable? Now that we have been so close to the big one, how do we get this team on edge (beginning with the 49ers game in Week 1) and keep them that way to the end? This appears to be one of our most important areas needing improvement. I would like to hear both you and Coach Zimmer’s thoughts on this.
-- Lloyd Gossman
Alaska

I actually think this is a strength of the Vikings under Zimmer, not an area that needs a great deal of improvement. The Vikings lost their starting quarterback and starting running back before the end of Week 4 last year, and they were able to go 13-3 and advance to the NFC title game. Overcoming an injury crisis like that doesn’t happen to a mentally fragile team. So, yes, the Vikings have and will continue to work on mental toughness and stamina. Zimmer has signs posted in the building and he preaches about mental toughness to his team constantly. If you listen to the postgame speeches we post on vikings.com and to Zimmer’s postgame press conferences, you’ll notice he talks about the toughness of his team quite a bit, and I don’t think he’s only referring to physical toughness or a physical fighting mentality. I believe he’s also referencing mental toughness. This is not an area of concern to me, in the least.

What’s the scoop on the running backs and tight ends...how many players are they keeping at each position?
-- Tom Durfee

That won’t be decided until the late part of August. Typically, a team is going to keep seven-to-nine players combined at running back and tight end. Last year, the Vikings rostered four running backs/fullbacks and three tight ends, for a total of seven. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number rise to a total of eight in 2018 because I like the depth at tight end. Blake Bell, David Morgan and Kyle Rudolph all return from last year’s roster and then I feel rookie Tyler Conklin has a strong chance to make roster. Dalvin Cook, CJ Ham and Latavius Murray return at running back/fullback from last year, and there’s a good competition brewing for another potential spot among Mike Boone, Mack Brown and Roc Thomas.

After OTAs and minicamp wrapped up last week, I heard a lot about draft picks like Bryan O’Neill, Mike Hughes and Jalyn Holmes. But I didn’t hear anything about Colby Gossett. I think the Vikings got a steal with him in the 6th round. Do you know how he looked over OTAs and minicamp?
-- Nate Atkins

Because of the restrictions on contact and the fact the players aren’t wearing pads, it’s hard to get a true gauge about how defensive and offensive linemen look in the offseason program. It gets even murkier when you’re talking about a rookie – someone you’ve never seen play in person. The bad news for Gossett and anyone other new additions to the offensive line this year is the Vikings are returning five players with at least seven starts plus a couple of key reserves; that means it’s going to be tough to latch onto a spot on the 53-man roster. The good news is the Vikings made it a priority to improve the offensive line once again this offseason, so anyone who was added to the roster was added with intentionality and will be given every chance to stick. Gossett is no exception, so I expect to see offensive line coach Tony Sparano find ways to get Gossett some looks with at least the second team once the team reports to training camp in late July.

Aside from the playbook, are there other areas where the coaching staff can assign tasks for the players to work on? Or is the focus the playbook?
-- Bill Eckerstorfer

The playbook is always a focus. Aside from that, though, getting into the right mindset, maintaining a level of conditioning and reporting to camp at the right weight are all top considerations for players during this down time.

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