EAGAN, Minn. — When a veteran player's ways have resulted in eight Pro Bowls, there can sometimes be a reluctance to accept new coaching late in a career.
But Patrick Peterson circled Minnesota as a landing spot during free agency in part because he wanted to work with Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who built his career by coaching defensive backs.
View photos of Vikings players from 2021 U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp practice at the TCO Performance Center on July 29.
The 31-year-old cornerback said Thursday before Minnesota's second team practice of 2021 U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp that Zimmer "does a great job of allowing me to be me, but if it's something that he feels can help my game, he's definitely giving me nuggets."
"He's given me a bunch of tips since I've been here on how he feels I can be on top of the route a little bit better ... just slowing down my backpedal when I'm playing off, be closer to routes, just things like that," Peterson said. "The biggest thing that I like just about his scheme in general is now I can play more face to the man versus my back to the man, and that's going to give me a better opportunity to break up balls and create interceptions."
Peterson has 28 interceptions to his credit, good for sixth in Cardinals history and equal to Harrison Smith's tally so far, which ranks seventh all-time in Vikings history. That's a plethora of picks that could be increased with help from a restocked defensive line that is eager to return Danielle Hunter to the edge after bolstering the interior through free agency.
"Having the guys up there to create pressure on the quarterback to get the ball out faster, it just makes my job that much easier, so it's great to have an interior and outside pass rush that we have, and like I said, the scheme's going to be the scheme," Peterson said. "I am going to have opportunities to press, I am going to have opportunities to be off, but nowadays in the league, most receivers don't want to get pressed, and most offenses know that, so they kind of condense the formations a lot, so that forces DBs to be off. So having the opportunity to play up my eyes a little bit more, having an opportunity to dissect routes now, versus being up in the receiver's face."
The productive conversations began with Zimmer asking Peterson how he wants to be coached.
Zimmer said Peterson has shown the necessary "want to." The expertise of Peterson and other veteran newcomers comes to the forefront during plays.
"If you want to be taught this way and learn and do it, which he does, that's the first thing," Zimmer said. "And I think you see it a lot more — there was a route [Bashaud] Breeland intercepted yesterday, where the receiver had a cut split, and so he's kind of anticipating he's going to come out a little bit slower and sit on the route some, and that comes from confidence and experience and understanding things."
Zimmer said he's already noticed younger players picking up on the coaching that is extended to Peterson.
Minnesota leaned heavily in 2020 on rookies Jeff Gladney (15 starts), Cameron Dantzler (10 starts) and Kris Boyd (five starts). Boyd has been sponge-like heading into his third pro season, and second-year pro Harrison Hand had a strong showing this spring. None of those had the benefit of a vet teammate or offseason program in 2020.
Zimmer said Peterson has a "good presence" in meeting rooms.
"Last night, in the defensive meeting, I'm talking to him about things that I would talk to a young player about, 'This is what's important when you're playing this particular technique,' " Zimmer said. "And he's listening to it and helping there, so when I'm coaching Patrick Peterson there, I'm also seeing that Kris Boyd is listening to me coach Patrick Peterson, which is a lot different than I'm just coaching Kris Boyd and things like that. So Dantzler has to listen to what I'm saying to Peterson. Peterson's nodding his head, 'Yeah, I understand, Coach,' so that whole thing brings these young guys along a little bit faster."
Peterson said he's passing along to others how he maximizes his time studying film and then applying it to the field. Certain knowledge can provide enlightenment and allow cornerbacks to limit the list of routes that a receiver is most likely to run based on formations.
Leading and modeling good listening, Peterson has learned, makes the team stronger.
"When a coach is able to coach up a veteran and a veteran is able to take that in, that gives those young players the kind of enlightenment that everybody is coachable," Peterson said. "Coach is not just on the young guys, he's not just coaching up the young guys, he's coaching up everybody because at the end of the day, I say this all the time, we're going to need every hand in the pile. If you're able to take that coaching and apply it on the field, you'll be a much better player."