MANKATO, Minn. —There are numerous categories in which the Vikings defense has improved under Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
After the Vikings allowed 480 points in 2013, the long-time defensive coordinator received his first opportunity as an NFL head coach.
He started the opportunity by focusing on the defense first, and in 2014, the Vikings allowed 343 points. The refinement continued the following season when Minnesota's opponents combined to score 302 points against the 2015 NFC North champs.
The Vikings defense opened 2016 with aplomb, allowing just 63 points during a 5-0 start, but two disappointing December outings, against Indianapolis and at Green Bay, put a nice pace off-kilter and changed perception in the minds of media.
All told, the 2016 Vikings allowed 307 points and ranked third in the NFL.
Zimmer was asked if the defense 'tapered off' in 2016.
"We had two bad games, I don't know about 'tapered off,' " Zimmer said. "We finished third in the league in points scored."
Really, the brunt of the damage was done in a six-quarter span.
The Colts scored 34 points against the Vikings in Week 15, and the Packers scored 24 points in the first half of Week 16. That's 18.9 percent of the total points against in less than 10 percent of the total season.
Zimmer said the 2017 Vikings defense wants to keep improving.
"I don't know about angrier, but I think they want to get better," Zimmer said. "I don't know a guy on the defense who is not trying to improve or get better, or try to get better collectively.
"These guys have an awful lot of pride," Zimmer continued. "They're good competitors, and actually they're a lot of fun to be around. Every year is different, so we'll find out when we go play. But I have a lot of confidence in their ability."
Here are four other topics addressed by Zimmer on Thursday:
The temperature for Thursday morning's walkthrough was quite brisk, failing to reach 60 degrees on the third morning of August.
Coaches and players responded accordingly. Zimmer donned a hooded sweatshirt that is usually his go-to for mid-fall and beyond practices. Multiple players layered up with hoodies under their jerseys and sported pants or tights under their shorts. Laquon Treadwell even work a knit winter hat.
Zimmer used the 20-plus degree temperature drop in forming a message to the team.
"I told the team … there's a lot of different things that are going to happen throughout the course of the season. We play on Thursday, we play on Saturday, we play on Mondays," Zimmer said. "Different things are going to come up where we're not expecting them, so today is the first test to see how they respond to a different change in the weather.
"We're used to being in 80 degrees, and now it's cooler, so let's see how we respond to this little test today. It will be interesting to find out."
2. Assessing running backs in pass protection
There are multiple aspects of playing running back. In addition to the obvious task of running the football, the running backs have done well as receivers in practices.
Another aspect ramped up when pads went on last week and the group has been tasked with pass protection assignments and picking up blitzes.
Zimmer was asked to assess how the running backs have fared in their pass protection so far.
"[C.J.] Ham has been solid. Dalvin [Cook] has been pretty good," Zimmer said. "I think [Bishop] Sankey has had a few hits and misses. Jerick [McKinnon] has been in there a little bit. It's a little bit of a disadvantage when we're in the 1-on-1 pass rush drills because the defense doesn't have to worry about anything but trying to beat that one guy, so it's a little disadvantage, but they're getting better at it.
3. Football is back
With Dallas and Arizona set to face off in tonight's Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, pro football games are officially back and scheduled each week until Feb. 4, 2018 when Minnesota hosts Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium (counting all preseason games and the Pro Bowl on Jan. 28).
Zimmer and the Vikings are one week away from opening their preseason slate at Buffalo, so his focus will remain on the night's meeting with the team instead of breaking to see live action.
"I might, depending when we get done with meetings," Zimmer said. "I'm not going to give them off meetings tonight so I can watch it."
4. Time to evaluate
The Vikings have taken looks at Emmanuel Lamur, Anthony Harris and Ben Gedeon at weakside linebacker with the first-team base defense.
Zimmer said there's no timetable to make that decision, and he thinks preseason games could play a role.
"Probably not [going to decide] until after we see them in some live action," Zimmer said. "We'll just see how it goes, and there's really not any big hurry. Hopefully by the third preseason game (Aug. 27 against San Francisco), but if it's not, it's not."