EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is excited to see his players in pads.
The team is scheduled for its first full-pads practice Monday afternoon, which will mark the first time since January that players have suited up in full gear.
"Excited to get out there and bang around a little bit, see where we're at that way," Zimmer told media members following the morning walk-through. "It's been a long time since we've had the pads on, so it should be fun. We're able to get some bump-and-run now, able to get a little bit of 1-on-1 pass rush with the offensive and defensive lines and the linebackers, should be good. It'll be a good evaluation day."
One of the first questions from reporters was regarding Dalvin Cook, who has looked good coming in and out of cuts in the first two days of full-team practice.
When asked what kind of participation Zimmer expects from the second-year running back in pads, Zimmer responded that Cook will "get a good dose today."
"We're going to monitor him a little bit," Zimmer said. "He needs to get banged around a little bit."
Behind Cook and Latavius Murray, a stable of young running backs are vying for the third spot. Mack Brown returned this year after joining the Vikings midseason in 2017, and undrafted rookies Mike Boone and Roc Thomas also are seeking an opportunity.
Zimmer emphasized that the players' individual skill sets play a big part in evaluation.
"Mike Boone is a little bit different skill set than Mack Brown. 'Can they catch the ball, can they block protections, what kind of runner are they?' Then we try to fit it where it's best with us," Zimmer said. "It's nice having a change-of-pace back like you say or a 1 and 1A and a change-of-pace or third-down back. It's really about who the best guys are and how we can utilize them."
Here are four other topics covered by Zimmer during his podium session:
1. Observing offensive line options
Practicing with the first-team offensive line has been primarily Riley Reiff at left tackle, Nick Easton at center while Pat Elflein is on the Physically Unable to Perform list, Mike Remmers at right guard and Rashod Hill at right tackle.
Most recently, the Vikings rotated Tom Compton and Danny Isidora in at the left guard spot, but Zimmer said they'll get looks at other options there, too.
"We're actually going to have some more guys in there today. We've had some injuries on the offensive line, so it's important that we look at guys in different spots," Zimmer said. "It's the, 'The more you can do to help the team' thing.
"Just trying to work through the process of figuring out who the best five are," he added.
Zimmer later was asked if Easton will move back to guard when Elflein returns to the starting center role, and he answered, "We will see."
2. 'Real football' helps coaches with evaluation process
As the pads go on, coaches get a better look at the players in a game-day scenario.
Zimmer said that it's "real football" now, and he explained how it changes the evaluation process, specifically in response to a question about the offensive line.
"In shorts, you can evaluate to see if they are taking the right spots, 'Are they going to the right guy, are they coming off the right combinations, are they blocking the right protections?' Now they have to do those, but get some movement on this guy and where our pad level is," Zimmer said. "The physicality of it all starts to show up."
Does Zimmer miss the days where training camp practices included more full contact?
The head coach said it doesn't "really bother [him]" because it's more about "how you play the game" wearing pads.
"We are not going to tackle much, but we can start talking a little bit more about the new tackling rules, lowering your head and things like that," Zimmer said. "Wrapping up, which we have not been able to really do, as well as stripping the football a little bit more."
3. Getting a look at Barr with the D-line
One of the things Zimmer, along with the defensive coaching staff, have looked at recently is linebacker Anthony Barr as an additional edge rusher from the outside of defensive ends.
Barr has gotten a few reps as a pass rusher and some work with defensive line coach Andre Patterson. Zimmer explained a couple of reasons for the approach and what he's looking for from Barr's work at another position.
"Besides some of the technique stuff, it's feeling comfortable going against bigger, stronger guys. That's probably the main thing," Zimmer said. "Sometimes when he rushed against some of the offensive lineman, I wouldn't say he didn't have a plan, but he'd get in a certain position and then didn't know how to react to it or finish it."
Added Zimmer: "We're trying to put him in those situations as much as possible so that he can understand what he has to do when he gets to that spot."
4. Veteran leadership paying off in practice
Zimmer and his coaching staff are hard at work evaluating and instructing 90 players currently at Verizon Vikings Training Camp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Center.
There are a lot of bodies and a lot of young players, however, and Zimmer was asked about his approach to instruction when he has a number of veteran players who also can be helpful in guiding less-experienced teammates.
"The big thing is they know what we've been teaching them for basically almost five years now. They're able to go in and maybe explain it a little bit differently to them," Zimmer said. "Then we're coaching this guy over here, and typically guys like Linval [Joseph] and Everson [Griffen] are watching their position, that's really what they're watching.