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Starters Named, But Competition Remains

Mike Zimmer is starting to get the hang of this press conference thing. While meeting with reporters for his first Wednesday morning press conference of the regular season, the Vikings Head Coach anticipated and preempted questions about who he would name as starters at both middle linebacker and strong safety

"I know you all want to know who's the starting MIKE linebacker," Zimmer said with a sternly facetious tone. "It's Jasper Brinkley, so I don't get this question asked anymore. Strong safety is Robert Blanton. Okay, we good?"

While Zimmer offered up the identity of two of his defensive starters before even being asked about it on Wednesday, it's clear that filling out a starting lineup is the furthest thing from his mind on the dawn of the regular season. As a veteran of so many years coaching in the NFL, Zimmer knows a team needs more than 11 starters on defense to get the job done.

"Oh yeah, definitely," Zimmer said when asked if Audie Cole, who was competing with Brinkley for a starting job at middle linebacker, will see action in certain situations. "Just because these guys aren't starting, doesn't mean they won't be playing some packages that we have in the game. We just have to put 11 out there to start with. Audie has made a lot of plays, he's doing a lot of different jobs. Sometimes special teams come into play on these decisions, too."

In deciding a starter at middle linebacker this week, it sounds like it came down to matching up against the St. Louis Rams ground game as well as benefiting from some continuity established during the offseason program and training camp.

View images from the Wednesday, September 3 practice at Winter Park.

"Jasper's a little bit more of a thumper in the running game. I think this week, they've got a good running game. I think their offensive line does a nice job in run blocking, I think it will be a good match for him," Zimmer explained.

"It's a one week deal at a time, one week at a time. They play good, they keep playing. I think the defensive team feels comfortable with Jasper making the calls, he's been lining up with the first group from the first day. In a game like this, it's nice to be settling. Everything nice and smooth and hear the same voice and things like that."

As for the other decision Zimmer mentioned on Wednesday, Zimmer pointed out Blanton's cover skills as one factor that led to him earning the starting nod.

"He probably made fewer mistakes than anybody. He's got some cover skills," Zimmer explained. "All of those safeties, we probably didn't see them enough because of the injuries or whatever. Robert is a good kid, a smart kid. We'll see how he does, hopefully he'll do well."

And if he or the starting quarterback or any player at any other position doesn't do well and live up to the standard established by the players themselves and expected from the coaches, it will be a "next man up" mentality, according to Zimmer.

"We will hold the quarterback position to the exact same expectations as we do every other position," Zimmer said two weeks ago when he disclosed Matt Cassel would be the Vikings starter. "If you perform, you play. If you don't perform, then the next guy will get an opportunity at some point."

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