EDEN PRAIRIE, MINN. – There are no more opponents on the schedule or game plans to devise. There are no practice scripts to write nor team meetings to manage. The 2016 season is in the rear view mirror. But judging by Mike Zimmer's to-do list, the 2017 season is closer than it appears.
The Vikings head coach held his annual end-of-season press conference on Tuesday at Winter Park and set a tone for the rest of the organization.
"I think collectively, as an organization, we need to continue to look at every possible thing that we can improve at," Zimmer said in his opening statement. "We started the evaluation process, really yesterday, of everything that's going on. Starting to look back on a lot of the football things this morning. Been meeting with people today.
"We will be on a mission to get this thing fixed to where we need to get to go."
The process of building toward the 2017 season is indeed underway. Coaches break down film to evaluate their players and then meet as a staff to discuss their opinions. The personnel department does the same, and then meets with the coaching staff to reach consensus. Zimmer will evaluate other aspects of the football operation, as well, from daily practice schedules to travel itineraries to meal times.
"Some of it, you go back and you think about, 'OK, well, we played on Monday night, then a Sunday, and then the next week was a Thursday, or whatever, a Saturday.' Maybe I should have changed some of the schedules throughout those times," Zimmer explained. "Maybe I should have had the players more fresh. Maybe I should have pushed them harder."
Not lost in the total evaluation of the team and its operation is some self-scouting. Zimmer is overt about holding his players to high standards, but he does the same to himself.
"Well, there are a lot of things that, really, number one is soul searching," Zimmer said. "A lot of the things that I have to do better with, some of it is, there were a couple game-management situations I could have done a better job in.
"I just know, ultimately, I'm responsible for getting these players to where they need to go, and that's what leadership is. It's taking a group of people somewhere that they've never been before. I haven't done that yet."
After taking care of the in-house items mentioned above, the focus will shift toward the outside. The coaching and scouting staffs will attend college all-star games, including the Senior Bowl. They'll hold meetings at Winter Park to continue the construction of their draft board, they'll attend the 2017 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis plus the pro days that follow, and they'll hold more meetings in March and the early part of April. It's all part of what GM Rick Spielman so often describes as the never-ending process of building a NFL roster.
While a broad look at the Vikings offseason to-do list on one of the first days of the offseason can paint an ominous picture, the organization is buoyed by many things that are already going in the right direction, such as the synergy between the coaching and scouting staffs and an up-and-coming roster of players who've demonstrated the ability and will to keep improving.
"I do think we have a good nucleus on this football team here," Zimmer said. "I think Rick's [Spielman] done an unbelievable job of bringing the right kind of guys in. All the meetings that we had with the players yesterday, they believe that we have an extremely strong locker room. We have the right kind of guys here."