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Notebook: Zimmer Caps Spring by Emphasizing Situational Drills

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Vikings motored through their third and final minicamp practice in roughly an hour on Thursday, getting a head start on the break until training camp.

But the quick session had a familiar feel, as Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer put his team through a variety of situational drills, something he has consistently done this spring.

Zimmer said he wanted to avoid just going through the motions this spring and implement a competitive aspect into practices, especially in the red zone.

Offensively, the Vikings had the ball 22 times inside an opponent's 5-yard line in 2016, and scored 14 touchdowns for a success rate of 63.6 percent.

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings defense had trouble keeping opponents out of the end zone. Minnesota allowed touchdowns on 17 of 18 trips inside the 5-yard line.

"We spent an awful lot of time in the 5-yard line, team inside the red-zone, third downs in the red-zone and all of these things were points of emphasis that we had this spring," Zimmer said. "I look at the stats, and you convert a third down in the red-zone, you usually get seven points on either side of the ball, right?

"Whereas obviously if you don't you get third downs, you kick field goals," Zimmer added. "There were a lot of points that were given up there. We spent a lot of time on that."

Added Vikings quarterback Kyle Rudolph: "I think the red zone work was great. It is something that we really emphasize throughout OTAs and minicamp and we spend a lot of time down there, so obviously for the offense and the defense it is a critical part of the game. For us, our mentality is we want to score touchdowns.

"It is an area that going back, and looking at last year we have got to be better," Bradford continued. "We have to be more efficient. When we get down there we have to score touchdowns. We cannot settle for field goals, so I think just trying some new concepts down there, some things that we did well last year, try to find a balance, and maybe a few more new plays."

Zimmer also wants the Vikings to improve during crunch time.

Minnesota had four losses by six points or less last season, so Zimmer has worked through a variety of in-game situations help prepare his team for what lies ahead.

The Vikings lost to Detroit and Washington by six points midway through the season before losing by a combined five points to Detroit and Dallas in Weeks 12 and 13.

"End of the game situations (are) where it's about learning how to play the game, so people understand at the end of the game this is what we're going to do," Zimmer said. "We had a good one (Wednesday). So, today was the end of a first half, you know, things like that.

"I think it's important that we continue to learn to play the game," Zimmer added. "So, at the end of the game everything is nice and smooth, we know what's going on. Obviously, things are going to happen that you're not expecting. But, maybe we'll act a little bit different and win some more games."

Smith sees value in spring practices

Harrison Smith has been around long enough to know that the intensity of Organized Team Activity and minicamp practices don't matchup to training camp, the preseason and the regular season.

But the Vikings safety sees value in the two months of the offseason workouts and spring practices, saying Thursday that the time is used to knock off some rust that accumulated after the season ended.

"I think it allows us to get back in the (right) mode," Smith said. "Because you get the offseason, the time off to spend it with your family or whatever, get back here and into the groove of things, staying in shape, staying on your techniques in the late part of June and into July and then showing up already kind of primed for training camp."

Smith had 104 total tackles (according to coaches' tally) and added four tackles for loss with 2.0 sacks and a fumble recovery in 2016. He played and started in 14 games.

The two-time Pro Bowler liked what he saw from his teammates over the past few weeks, but added there is still work to be done.

"We definitely progressed," Smith said. "We have to all individually keep getting better in this little time off and roll back into training camp and continue to improve."

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