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Presser Points: Vikings Build on Familiarity without Fresh Packers Tape

EAGAN, Minn. – There's zero preseason film for opponents to study of one another heading into Week 1, but there's plenty of familiarity between the Vikings and Packers.

The division rivals are set to open the 2020 regular season at U.S. Bank Stadium at noon (CT) Sunday.

In a situation where the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of preseason games, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked Wednesday if it's advantageous to play a team he preps for at least twice every season.

"I do think it helps a little bit. You get to know those guys … I just wish they weren't quite as good as they are. They're a really good football team," Zimmer told Twin Cities media members. "They know us pretty well, and we know them pretty well. Obviously, there will be new wrinkles on both teams. There will be new players that we haven't been able to see on tape, other than college tape, so that part will be a little bit new as well. But, yeah, it's better than playing someone you don't really know very well, I guess."

Zimmer said they "try to practice everything" leading up to the regular season kickoff in hopes of anticipating what Green Bay will throw at them.

He noted that, even in a typical year that includes a preseason, teams often don't expend their fresh ideas during exhibition games.

"But the difference is not seeing some of the players that they've added," Zimmer reiterated. "So some of the personnel things will be different. It's going to be a game of adjustments like it always is, but probably a little bit more so this week."

Here are four other topics Zimmer addressed during his media availability.

1. Prepping for a Packers defense

Zimmer was asked how much the Packers defense has changed under Mike Pettine, who assumed the role of defensive coordinator in Green Bay in 2018.

His response? Quite a bit.

"They've got an extremely stout front. Kenny Clark is a terrific player who shades on the nose quite a bit," Zimmer said. "They've got the two Smiths (Za'Darius and Preston) who can really rush the quarterback. They've changed schemes a lot, but they've added a lot of good players in the secondary. The two safeties (Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos) are really good players, the corners. Jaire Alexander is a tough, competitive kid. I think that's added to everything they've done.

"Both their offense and defense were in the top 10 in the league in points scored and points against," Zimmer added. "They're a good team."

He feels confident in the ability Minnesota's offense has to combat the dynamic defense, though.

"I think, offensively, we're in a good spot," Zimmer said. "Obviously, we'll find out come Sunday. But I feel good about the guys we have, feel good about Kirk [Cousins] taking a leadership role and the things he's doing that way in preparing for this football game. I think we've got some weapons, and hopefully we can get them in some space."

Look back at photos through the years featuring games between the Vikings and Packers.

2. Always have to be ready for Rodgers

Earlier this week, Vikings safety Harrison Smith said there's one piece of information he gives to young defensive backs when preparing to face Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers:

"The first thing I would mention is that the play might be longer than you're used to," Smith said. "Every play seems to last a little longer when you play Aaron Rodgers and the Packers."

When Zimmer was asked about that, he said, "I guess we hope we have that problem," because if the play lasts longer it means that Minnesota's defenders aren't leaving targets wide open for Rodgers.

"But yeah, that's part of facing a quarterback that moves in and out of the pocket," Zimmer said. "He makes his hay in the red zone by moving out of the pocket and finding guys and buying time for his receivers, and the receivers do an unbelievable job of taking off and either heading back and changing direction, and then he's able to find them with the great vision that he has.

"I was watching some tape on him this morning, and some of the plays he makes take your breath away," Zimmer added. "It's kind of like watching Barry Sanders run the football."

3. First-round pick in first game

Vikings fans will get their first glimpse of first-round pick Justin Jefferson on Sunday.

Zimmer pointed out that the former LSU standout is used to the big stage and bright lights after playing in a number of important games – including the CFP National Championship – during his collegiate career.

"Obviously, this is different. I'm sure he'll be nervous; it's his first professional game, and he'll want to do good," Zimmer said. "I'll just tell him to go out and play the way he knows how. 'Don't think about all the outside things that you're worried about. Focus on your assignment on that particular play and then go out and do what you do best.' "

4. Irv Smith making the jump

Tight end Irv Smith, Jr., showed progression throughout his rookie season, playing a larger role in the offense and becoming more comfortable in the system.

Although he didn't get a chance to play in any preseason games, Smith demonstrated during training camp practices that he's seemingly taken another big step forward.

"I feel like Irv has grown quite a bit, as far as just watching him out there at practice and running routes, and his blocking and different things that we're trying to do with him," Zimmer said. "Each guy is different. Some guys become better blockers their second year. Some guys understand route recognition and how to set up defenders better than other guys. So it a little bit depends on that, but he's done a great job this camp."