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Monday Morning Mailbag: What Changes Can Zimmer Make To His Scheme On Defense?

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Is one challenge for the Vikings defense simply the fact that the current scheme has been around so long that opponents have tons of film on it, thereby making it easy for offensive coordinators to game plan? How will coach Zimmer change things up defensively to avoid being out-schemed this year? Skol!
-- Joel Espelien
Mercer Island, WA

Well, we can't divulge the new schematic ideas right here because then opposing offensive coordinators (who are undoubtedly reading the Monday Morning Mailbag every week) would get a head start in developing answers for them! Seriously, though, this is a balance any schematically-sound defense or offense must draw – keep doing what has always worked versus designing and implementing wrinkles to keep things fresh. There is no question opposing offensive coordinators will meticulously study what coach Zimmer did on 3rd downs last year in an effort to be able to answer those tactics this year. So the challenge for coach Zimmer is to sprinkle in those changes at a high enough frequency to keep offenses guessing AND to ensure what worked so consistently last season will continue to work this season. Lastly, always remember that as important as coaching is in this League, so too is execution. The perfect scheme is rendered impotent by poor execution.

I'm excited about the addition of Alexander Mattison. Latavius Murray played well for us last year and his loss will be felt. Can Mattison step up to fill that role?
-- Kevin O'Brien
Lafayette, LA

There is good reason to be excited about Mattison's near-term and long-term future with the Vikings. I believe he can be on the field on any down and in any situation. I'd recommend against comparing him to Murray both in style and in terms of his possible role because they are different types of backs and will be asked to do different types of things. Also, as excited as we should be about Mattison, we should also be excited about the opportunity that both Ameer Abdullah and CJ Ham should have in this offense. Throw in Mike Boone and Roc Thomas…and the Vikings cupboard is full at the running back position.

We all know about the strengths of the Vikings, but where would you say each of the division rivals have their strengths?
-- Brady Blatchford
Fargo, ND

In Chicago, it's the defense. The Vikings registered only one pass play of 20+ yards against the Bears last season and there's no reason to think that defense will take a step back in 2019. In Detroit, you're always worried about quarterback Matthew Stafford because he's a gamer and you feel like they're never out of a game with him on the field. But it might be the defense that is a strength in Detroit, too, with second-year head coach Matt Patricia starting to gain some traction both with his scheme but also with some personnel additions such as defensive end Trey Flowers. In Green Bay, it's Aaron Rodgers, one of the best in the game and the type of player who elevates the play of those around him every week.

The training regimen at the NFL level has to be a big step forward for players who were student athletes and had to worry about a lot of things besides football. I was wondering if any of the second- or third-year players specifically stand out in your eyes as looking a lot bigger and/or stronger as a result.
-- Bruce Johnson
Eagan, MN

I won't comment on the size or strength of players, but let's point out a couple second-year and third-year players who are interesting. For second-year players, it's two defensive linemen who I'm anticipating will demonstrate big jumps – Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata'afa. They looked good this spring in the offseason program but in training camp this summer they'll have pads on and I think they'll continue to shine in that environment. A third-year player to watch is defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, who has trained at both three technique and nose tackle with the Vikings and who will be in a fierce competition with the two aforementioned defensive linemen as well as others for roster spots and playing time.

Why does the NFL pay out such big money to rookies who have not proven themselves yet? It seems to me it should be like every other job - pay the ones who've earned it.
-- John McGuire
Lone Pine, CA

Actually, the NFL implemented a rookie wage scale when the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified before the 2011 season. Prior to that, top picks were making upwards of $60-70 million. But the wage scaled curbed those salaries, which gave teams more money to spend on veterans, to John's point. The first two top picks after the new CBA were Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, who made around $22 million.

I know most of your questions concern the current Vikings team and the upcoming 2019 season. But I thought we could change it up for one question. Why do you think Bobby Bryant is not in the Vikings Ring of Honor?
-- Mark Wilson
Summerville, SC

It's a tough club to crack. Steve Jordan is the best player in team history at his position and he's just getting in this year. While Bryant was named to the 50 Greatest Vikings team in 2010, he is not in the team's Ring of Honor. Will he be so honored some day? It's possible. You'd begin the case by highlighting the fact that only Paul Krause, who holds the NFL record, has more interceptions in Vikings history. Bryant, who is one of 11 Vikings to have played on all four Super Bowl teams, was a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. He also returned kicks and punts for the Vikings. There have been many great players in Vikings history and Bryant is one of them. Whether he is eventually inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor remains to be seen, but it's not inconceivable that he would be. Time will tell!