EAGAN, Minn. – Head Coach Mike Zimmer is happy to have the crew back together.
Sunny skies and a slight breeze welcomed fans who arrived at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center Saturday for the first full-team session of Verizon Vikings Training Camp.
Even the slower pace of a walk-through drew claps and cheers from the stands, and Zimmer also had a few things to smile about.
“I like this team a lot. Today’s obviously the first day, so they can’t make me too mad on the first day,” Zimmer quipped when addressing the media. “They approach things like professionals, like business guys coming out here. They still have fun, but they were focused on what they did.
“If [they carry over what] they did in the spring to where we’re hoping to continue to go, I think this will be a good football team,” Zimmer added. “We’re going to have to play good, we’re going to have to eliminate the things that get you beat and all that. But I feel good about where we are day one and [before putting on] pads.”
Here are four other topics Zimmer addressed during his podium session:
1. Downing ‘a great young coach’
Zimmer announced Saturday that Clancy Barone (formerly tight ends coach) and Andrew Janocko will be co-offensive line coaches for the 2018 season, following the unexpected passing of offensive line coach Tony Sparano.
Todd Downing, who was hired in February as a Senior Offensive Assistant, will be coaching tight ends.
“Flip (Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo) had a history with him. He’s an offensive coordinator, he had coached quarterbacks before,” Zimmer said of the decision to put Downing in charge of tight ends. “And guys who have been through the war, I think, they’re not afraid to voice their opinion. They’ll come in here and they’ll give ideas and go to work.
Added Zimmer: “And Todd’s a great young coach. He’s very respectful. He understands, really, where he’s at and what he’s trying to do, and [he’s] trying to help us win.”
3. Learning curve will accompany new rule changes
In March, NFL Owners passed a new rule under which a player will be penalized for lowering his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet.
When asked about potential challenges that will come with the adjusted rule, Zimmer said he anticipates “a lot of challenges.”
“When I’m going through tape right now and I look at past games or plays, and I’m like, ‘I think that’s going to be a penalty now.’ Or, ‘I wonder if that one’s going to be,’ ” Zimmer said. “I think it’s going to take some of the preseason for it to clean up a little bit, where everybody, you know, I think they kind of understand what they’re going to call, but talking to officials and things like that. It’s going to be tough at first.”
And will the new rule change the way coaches instruct?
“Oh yeah, a little bit. We’ll have to,” Zimmer said. “And I think it’s going to happen way more in the secondary and things like that, open-field situations, probably than anything – because that’s where I noticed it more on tape. But yeah, we’ll definitely have to talk about that.”
4. Cousins asserting himself ‘a lot more’
Kirk Cousins has had three-plus months to work on learning the Vikings offense since signing with Minnesota as a free agent, and his confidence comes through more and more each day.
Zimmer said that Cousins, who reported to Training Camp with the early group on Aug. 24, is “asserting himself a lot more” as his comfort level increases.
“I’ve had some good conversations with him, and he’s asked me, you know, ‘What do you want from me?’ And we’ve talked about a lot of different things,” Zimmer said. “Kirk is a guy that’s going to buy in and try and help, and I think he just wants to win. So we’re trying to help him do that.”
5. Reflecting on Sparano’s service
Zimmer attended Sparano’s funeral service Friday morning, along with other Vikings coaches, players, personnel and staff.
When asked about a part of the service that especially impacted him, Zimmer said “there were so many things” but that he especially was struck by the eulogy given by Sparano’s wife, Jeanette.
“I thought she was unbelievable. The strength that she had and the message and that she had to the team was outstanding,” Zimmer said. “When my wife passed away, I could not do it that well. I was not near as good as she was. It was a credit to her.”
Zimmer added that he appreciated the team voluntarily attending the service together.
“I didn’t tell them that they had to go or anything like that; it was all up to them,” Zimmer said. “But I appreciate their loyalty to Tony and to the Sparano family. We have a good bunch of guys, and it was important that we showed him respect.”