*EAGAN, Minn. – *The first group of players to officially hit the fields at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for a practice was made up of mostly newbies themselves.
Veteran players have had access to the field for workouts this week without coaches, but on Friday, 60-plus players kicked off the Vikings rookie minicamp under the watchful eyes of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and the rest of the coaching staff.
Zimmer spoke to media members and emphasized the past successes that Minnesota has had in finding talented rookies – drafted and undrafted – who can impact the team.
“This is a big weekend for us. It’s good to get them out here,” Zimmer said.
When Zimmer met with the young athletes in a team meeting Thursday night, he talked to them about the types of character the Vikings look for in their players.
“We want guys who are tough, smart, passionate about the game of football, good teammates. Guys who are good people off the field,” Zimmer said. “That’s a start. And then obviously, you have to look at their athletic ability and the way that they learn.”
Here are four other topics Zimmer addressed from the podium:
1. Embracing the teacher role
Zimmer said a “fun part” about rookie minicamp revolves around teaching the younger players.
“I went about to every group today with all the coaches. They’re all great teachers, very technique oriented, trying to be disciplined,” Zimmer said. “Really, in a group like this, when you have never had these players before, there’s a lot more mistakes. You get a chance to do a lot of correcting and trying to explain to them and understand that they’ve never done it before.
“You can’t really get mad at them, you just have to try to teach them,” Zimmer added.
Part of being a coach at any level is being a teacher, and Zimmer said it’s an aspect of the job that he loves.
“I love being in front of the team and being able to be in a classroom setting, basically, and talk to them about the things we’re trying to do and the way we’re going. Then we come out here and we try to teach the best technique that we possibly can to make each and every player better and put them in the best position we can.”
*2. ‘Always looking for athletes’ *
A common quality among a number of rookies the Vikings added is their athleticism.
Zimmer highlighted the athletic skill set that defensive lineman Jalyn Holmes possesses but said the same can be said about “really, all of these guys.”
“One of the things we’re always looking for is athletes,” Zimmer said. “Because we can make guys better players, but we typically can’t make them faster or more talented than what they are that way.
“We talked about these two defensive lineman (Holmes and Ade Aruna),” Zimmer added. “Really, [Brian] O’Neill is another young guy that has outstanding athletic traits. [Colby] Gossett looked pretty good out here to me today. We were just kind of going three-quarter speed.”
Zimmer gave the disclaimer, however, that he wanted to avoid assessing too quick.
“[Former Head Coach Bill] Parcells always told me, ‘Don’t be an instant evaluator.’ He used to call it ‘I.E.’ So, he’d get mad at me if I said too many good things about them,” Zimmer quipped.
3. Comparing practice to the tape
When asked what he’ll be looking for from first-round draft pick Mike Hughes, Zimmer said he often watches for something similar in all draft picks but “especially where you drafted him, you want to see the things that you saw on tape.”
Zimmer said that he’ll watch Hughes during drills and hopes to see the same acceleration he saw when doing pre-draft work on the cornerback.
“I want to see the quickness that I saw, the long speed. You won’t see the competitive nature so much [in practice],” Zimmer said. “But, that part, and then the learning process of trying to understand when we correct him, does he continue to make that mistake or does he fix it right away? So, those are kind of things we’re looking for.”
*4. Mata’afa moving from the line to linebacker *
Hercules Mata’afa, whom the Vikings signed as an undrafted free agent, is listed as a linebacker for the Vikings after playing defensive line at Washington State.
Zimmer said “it will be an adjustment” but that it’s a transition players have made in the past.
“Those Washington State guys, those Cougars, they’re pretty tough,” said Zimmer, who coached at Washington State from 1989-93.
“That will be the biggest adjustment, standing up. He led the NCAA in negative plays the last two years. It is a little different. He was slanting and moving quite a bit. Size-wise, he projects more into that,” Zimmer continued. “There have been several guys that have gone from defensive line to linebacker.”
The head coach referenced former NFL linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
“I am not saying he is Bruschi, but there are guys that have done that in the past,” Zimmer said. “It is going to take time but that will be the biggest adjustment, learning. He’s looking at running backs now and receivers where before, he was looking at guards.”
5. Creating competition at kicker
The Vikings traded up in the fifth round to snag Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson on Saturday.
Kai Forbath, who joined the Vikings in 2016 and spent his entire first season in Purple last year, and Carlson will compete during the offseason and preseason.
Zimmer was asked specifically if he tries to create “pressure” situations for Carlson to help evaluate the options at that position.
“There’s plenty of time for that. We’re just trying to create competition,” Zimmer said. “Kai’s done really good this spring. So, we’re just going to let them go out there and kick. We’re always going to try and create the best atmospheres that we can.”