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Notebook: Zimmer on Vikings Potential Starting Offensive Line

There are still more than five months to go until Minnesota's season opener, so Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has plenty of time to figure out his starting lineup.

But Zimmer hinted Wednesday from the Annual League Meeting in Arizona that the Vikings offensive line is starting to take shape.

Zimmer was asked if he has five starting offensive linemen on his roster.

"I don't know. I think I've got four, but we'll see," Zimmer said. "I think I still have to work out the right guard. I think I know what the center is going to be."

The Vikings signed tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers as bookends, while Pat Elflein is likely the starting left guard, the position where he started all 14 games he played in 2016.

The center position could either be Nick Easton (11 starts in 2016) or Nick Easton (five starts in 2016), with Berger having the ability to play right guard as well. Berger made two starts at right guard and one at left guard in the final three weeks of the season.

Zimmer said Jeremiah Sirles is in the mix for right guard, while the Vikings could bring in another free agent or attack that position in the draft. Sirles started nine games at right tackle and one at left guard in 2016.

No matter who ends up starting, Zimmer said it was crucial the Vikings landed Reiff and Remmers during the early stages of free agency.

"This draft is not the best draft for tackles," Zimmer said. "We felt like it was important that we signed two offensive linemen."

Reiff spent the past five seasons in Detroit and has 69 career starts. Remmers was with the Vikings in training camp in 2014 before eventually landing in Carolina where he was a two-year starter.

Zimmer said he's excited about adding their grit and experience to the line.

"With both of those two guys, I think we improved at the tackle spots," Zimmer said. "They're both guys that are really tough guys, really smart guys and they play like veterans.

"They'll change up their sets, change up their hands … so they're not getting the same thing every time and the defensive linemen don't get in a rhythm with them," Zimmer added.

Zimmer later said he believes Minnesota's entire offense will improve with the addition of Reiff and Remmers.

"I think they're probably better run blockers than they are pass protectors," Zimmer said. "In our pass protection last year, we had a lot of quick misses. Guys would get beat quick and get the quarterback hit. These guys are going to fight and make it a lot tougher for them to get around.

"I'm not saying our guys weren't fighting, they're just going to change up their techniques and not give the guys the same thing every time," Zimmer added.

Zimmer was also asked about the criticism his offensive line faced in 2016. The Vikings trotted out eight different starting offensive line combinations and played a total of 12 linemen at some point.

Zimmer said the depth the Vikings had in training camp quickly eroded over time.

"Well, we started five left tackles. Going into the season last year, we felt really good about where we were on the offensive line," Zimmer said. "We added Andre Smith, we added Alex Boone, (Matt) Kalil was back having a productive offseason … so we felt really good about it.

"I'm not going to complain about injuries … but when you lose your starting tackles in the second and fourth weeks of the season, you're playing 13 weeks with backup guys," Zimmer added. "And then those guys get hurt, and you're playing with street guys. Obviously we're not the only team that had to deal with those things, but five left tackles is a lot."

Liking the leadership

Zimmer is entering his fourth season with the Vikings, meaning he's been able to identify the type of players he wants on the field.

Zimmer talks about wanting tough, physical, smart and disciplined players, but those characteristics have translated into the locker room as well.

Even though linebacker Chad Greenway retired earlier this month, Zimmer said there are more than enough leaders integrated throughout the team.

"We've got a great locker room," Zimmer said "Terence (Newman) is a great kid. Harrison Smith, he's not a vocal guy, but he's a leader.

"(Eric) Kendricks and (Anthony) Barr, Everson (Griffen). Linval Joseph is a leader," Zimmer said. "And offensively, I think (Kyle) Rudolph takes initiative amongst himself. Boone is a vocal guy. (Stefon) Diggs tries to be a leader – he's still young and learning how to do it. I think we'll be fine there."

Zimmer later added that he expects quarterback Kyle Rudolph to take more of a leadership role this season because he'll have an entire offseason to feel comfortable with the organization.

The Vikings acquired Bradford in a trade just eight days before the start of the 2016 season.

"With Sam, it was so much of just trying to get acclimated to the whole situation. Sam has a lot of leadership qualities," Zimmer said. "Besides being a heck of a quarterback, he's a scratch golfer, he was a great basketball player. I don't think you ever are that kind of athlete if you don't get a lot of respect from the people around you and your team.

"But I think he'll be more of a leader this year because of all the things that went on last year, too," Zimmer said. "He didn't know anybody – he probably didn't even know who I was when he walked in the door."

No longer rookies

The Vikings spent their first two picks in 2016 on wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and cornerback Mackensie Alexander.

Both had their ups and downs as rookies, but Zimmer said he's anticipating improvements from each of them.

Zimmer said Treadwell, who had one catch for 15 yards, was at Winter Park last week and looked good.

He's still learning some of the pro game, too, and understanding those things," Zimmer said of Treadwell. "But he's going to be a good player.

"I don't think he understands quite some of the subtleties that he needs. I think he has the basics down pretty good," Zimmer later added. "[Last year] a lot of injuries, and then he got frustrated, and then he was pressing. I think he just has to come in and just be an athlete. Sometimes, even I was like this, you're trying to press people so much that you start to get paralysis by analysis. It's like, 'Oh, I have to try harder, I have to try harder,' and really, it's, 'Just relax, and do what you've been doing.'

He's a pretty smart kid."

As for Alexander, Zimmer said earlier this month that he would have the first crack at Minnesota's open spot at nickel cornerback.

Zimmer said Wednesday that Alexander, like most young players, needs to add consistency to his game.

"Understand his assignments better; understand the NFL rules better, in pass coverage and things like that. It's really just those things," Zimmer said.

Zimmer later said the 23-year-old Alexander maybe just needed time to develop.

"He's a young guy that, he's kind of a guy that has a ton of talent. I think he's a good kid," Zimmer said. "He just needs to be more consistent with, really, everything – practice habits, things like that. A lot of times young guys come in, and I'm not saying him particularly, but they come in and they don't trust enough. They're not trusting [the coaches] enough, so it's just that kind of stuff.

"Like with some of those thoroughbreds – you have to bring them along slow," Zimmer said. "He did [make a turn] at the end of the year; I thought he did better."

Alexander had six total tackles (according to coaches' tally) and one pass defended in 2016.

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