*EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – *Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is proud of his football team, and it’s not only due to the players’ success on the field.
During his Thursday podium session with media leading up to Sunday’s NFC Championship game at Philadelphia, Zimmer emphasized the “bunch of great guys” in Minnesota’s locker room who have a team-first mentality and care about each other.
“Obviously we’ve got some talent … but it’s about the character of the team,” Zimmer said.
He shared the Vikings quarterbacks situation as a specific example.
Both Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford have made their way back to the active roster after being sidelined due to injury, but both quarterbacks have demonstrated maturity and selflessness. When Bridgewater was listed as inactive in favor of Bradford as Case Keenum’s backup for the Divisional matchup against the Saints, he didn’t push back on Zimmer’s decision.
“[When] I talked to Teddy a week ago, it was, ‘Let’s do what you feel is best for the team.’ ” Zimmer said. “When Bradford came back he said, ‘I don’t want to be a distraction, things are going good. I just want to get back out there because that’s what I like to do. I like to go play and practice.’
“So, these guys understand the things are going pretty good, so there’s no real reason to rock the boat,” Zimmer added. “Kind of the character of our football team.”
Zimmer clarified that the players’ willingness to take a back seat, however, is no reflection of their competitiveness or commitment to the team.
“They want to play, there’s no doubt about it. I don’t think it takes away from their competitiveness,” Zimmer said. “What it shows is their character that they have.
“I think this team has a lot of heart,” Zimmer continued. “They’ve showed [that] throughout the course of this season. We’ve been in a lot of situations, the character and the hearts, [competitiveness], all those things that are cliché, we’ve talked about. They just want to go out and play.”
Here are four other topics Zimmer addressed during his session with media members:
1. And then there were four (top defenses)
The old saying is “defense wins championships,” and this year’s postseason is proving that it still can be an accurate statement.
According to NFL Research, this season is the first since the 1970 merger in which all four teams in the conference championship games finished in the top five for scoring defense in the regular season. <center>
“I think it just proves to you that you can have a formula to run a good defense and have a chance to win a lot of football games,” Zimmer said. “Typically, when you’re good defensively, you’re going to stay in the ball games. Then you have a chance to win them at the end. … There’s some pretty good defenses that are left. I’m happy that our offense has been very good this year, but it’s kind of the formula we’ve [applied] the last few years.”
2. A shout out to Shurmur
Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur is receiving respect and appreciation from far outside the Vikings organization.
On Thursday, the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) announced that Shurmur had been named the 2017 NFL Assistant Coach of the Year.
Shurmur, who took over as offensive coordinator in November 2016 and has held the position since, has worked with both Bradford and Keenum at quarterback and also dealt with the loss of rookie running back Dalvin Cook, who started out hot but suffered a torn ACL in Week 4.
Zimmer said the award was well-deserved by Shurmur.
“That’s an unbelievable honor. I’m happy for Pat,” Zimmer said. “Pat has done an outstanding job. In my opinion, he deserves to be assistant coach of the year. I think it’s great, he’s done outstanding with getting the players, mixing them in, using them in the right place. Done a good job of molding everything together.”
Added Zimmer: “He’s a good guy. We’ve worked well together, and I think he works well with the rest of the staff.”
3. Keeping an eagle-eye on the opponent
Heading into Sunday night’s game against the Eagles, Zimmer talked about the talent on Philadelphia’s roster.
He highlighted the skill set of two specific players asked about: safety Malcolm Jenkins and offensive tackle Lane Johnson. Zimmer called Jenkins, who on Thursday welcomed his second daughter into the world, “a terrific player.”
“He’s very active, he gets down in the box,” Zimmer said. “He sees things really [well], he inserts into the gaps when he needs to. I think he’s a really good player.”
Zimmer later spoke highly of Johnson, who has started 65 games for the Eagles since being drafted fourth overall in 2013.
“Lane Johnson is a great player. Not just a good player, he’s a great player,” Zimmer emphasized. “Physical, tough, competitive, athletic, strong, I mean, he’s an outstanding player. I don’t know who [all was selected] to the Pro Bowl, but if he didn’t go, something is wrong.”
Editor’s note: Johnson was voted to his first career Pro Bowl after his 2017 performance.
*4. Notes on special teams *
Minnesota’s special teams unit has played generally well on all four phases this season, but Zimmer acknowledged there have been some ups and downs.
Most recently against the Saints in the Divisional playoff game, Kai Forbath missed a 49-yard field goal, and a Ryan Quigley punt was blocked in the second half, allowing New Orleans to take over on offense in Minnesota territory.
“The times we’ve been really good, we’ve done some great things,” Zimmer said. “Unfortunately, last week we got the punt blocked, and we missed the field goal. I think we had some missed tackles last week, [and] we probably had a couple missed blocks here and there. Stuff happens, that’s why we’re a team. We go about it together, we fight together, we’re going to win or lose together.