Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman at the podium – NFL Scouting Combine
"First off, I'd like to start by recapping our season last year a little bit. I can't tell you the job that Coach Zimmer has done since coming in a year ago, turning our football team around and then being able to build on that this year … just the job they do developing the young guys, the culture that he has set in our locker room, as we go through this together, his emphasis to our players is the team comes first. He's done a great job having players maybe sacrifice individual statistics for what's best for the football team and what's best for us to win football games."
"The communication between myself, the scouting department, the coaching department, I think has paid dividends over the past couple years. There's a clear distinct trait we're looking for in football players that fit what we're doing from a scheme standpoint offensively and defensively."
"There's specific character traits that we're looking for, trying to build that chemistry and what type of locker room we're trying to build with our players down there."
"Everybody is buying in. I know getting the opportunity to meet with a lot of our players after our season ended, just how anxious they were to get back into the building when they're allowed and to get started next year. Hopefully we can build on what we've been able to do the past two years."
On winning the NFC North in the last game of the season…
"I think that's a reflection of Coach Zimmer's personality and that 'true grit' mentality. Green Bay is a great team, they have a great organization. For our guys to respond, to go up there in that atmosphere in a prime time game – in the past we hadn't been very good in those situations – that was just a reflection on one, the coaching staff, and two, the type of players that we're bringing in. The most important thing is the players are buying in to what Coach Zimmer is teaching and preaching."
On Chad Greenway and veteran leadership…
"Chad is out of a contract, and his role reduced a little bit last year. We've talked about guys on our football team that still can play the game and contribute to us winning and Chad showed that last year even though his role was reduced. That leadership (he showed), you can't put enough emphasis on that, especially when you have a young ball club. We have older veterans like Chad Greenway and Terence Newman, who did a great job for us this year and in what we're trying to establish in that locker room. Those guys are true pros' pros."
"Another guy who may have been disappointed from a statistical standpoint, but what Mike Wallace brought into our locker room and his buy-in and his sacrifice from a standpoint of stats and what was best for the team, and I know Coach Zimmer mentioned it in his postseason press conference, he was a true professional. Everything he was asked to do, he did it to his best. His leadership was key to the success we had on the field."
Will there will be a division race between Green Bay and Minnesota for the foreseeable future?
"No, I think Detroit has a very good football team. And Chicago, I have the utmost respect for what John Fox has done everywhere where he's been. I think it's going to be a very competitive division next year. Even though we've had success and built on that this past year and were able to win the division, we still haven't reached all of our goals. Every year is a new year. You can't predict injuries, you can't predict what's going to happen with players. We have to take the approach that it's starting over. What we did last year doesn't matter. It's what we're going to do going forward, and that's the approach we're going to have to take."
On how the Calvin Johnson situation affects the Lions:
"Well they still have [Matthew] Stafford, who I think is a very good quarterback – we have great quarterbacks in this division. And I don't know the situation with Calvin and what will transpire, but he is a great player. I think, just playing against him through his career, he's a future Hall of Famer. Those guys are few and far between when they come through. Not only – just looking from the outside in – was a great player on the field, he was a great player in how he represented that organization off the field."
On Cordarrelle Patterson's role with the team – special teams vs. wide receiver
"You know, I've talked to Cordarrelle, I've talked to his agents, we've had our meetings, and Cordarrelle has to come in and – I think his mindset is he knows he has to come in and become a better receiver, a little bit more consistent receiver on just the nuances part of the game. There's no question about what type of athlete he is. There's no question about the explosive, play-making ability he has with the ball in his hand. It's just a matter of, 'Is he going to be able to take that next step or not?' I know, just what he's been doing this offseason, he is really focusing and honing in on the player that he wants to become, and we all think he can become."
On Norv Turner's past receivers and current receivers on Vikings roster
"We went through that. I won't tell you about what we think or don't think about our players, but we think we have some talent at the receiver position, but we're always going to look – just like with any position – to try to upgrade in any way we can. Not only there, but everywhere on the football team."
On college receivers coming from the spread offense and if they face a learning curve
"It depends what system they come out of. I think they have to get used to the style of defenses here, the precision of the routes because of defensive backs and how skilled they are, the timing, as far as, the quarterback may throw you the ball, and you're not going to be as open as you were in college. Also, depending on what offense they came out of, how much knowledge they just have on an overall scheme. Some schemes are watered down but very productive, other schemes are a little bit more complicated, but I think it's just the nuance of learning what it is to play receiver at this level, because they probably aren't going to have that experience coming out of college."
On the benefit of drafting a player and playing them early on (like Teddy Bridgewater in his rookie season)
"When Teddy played his rookie year, Matt Cassel had gotten hurt, and Teddy got thrown into the fire a little bit, but I think it was a great learning experience for him. And he is a young quarterback that I think is mature enough to handle that, to get thrown into the fire, because of his work ethic, because of his mental approach to the game, that we felt when we went through the process was farther along than some of the other quarterbacks that we interviewed. I think it's going to play dividends for us as he continues to move on down the road with his career. We think he's going to be a great quarterback and [are] looking forward to him continuing to progress.
On developing a quarterback rather than playing right away
"I think it's depending on the system, depending on the coaching staff and what their philosophies are. There are plenty of ways to do it, there's no right way or wrong way. I think it's based on that team and that individual that they do draft, whether they're ready or not, or what approach you're going to take a young, potentially franchise quarterback."
Why is it so hard to evaluate quarterbacks?
A lot of it has to do with – you know, you can see the stats and what they're doing, and you can see the physical ability – their arm strength, their ability to move in the pocket, their athletic traits. I think that's one position where you really have to try to hone in on the mental part of it. How they perform in stress situations during a game, third downs, two-minute, come-from-behind victories. How do they respond in those situations? There are guys I've interviewed – and I've been doing it, I think this is my 25th combine – that will come into our room and sit there, and you listen to them speak, and it's like listening to an offensive coordinator. They can get up there and draw on the board and do everything you want to do, and you go, 'Boy, is this guy sharp.' Now, can he translate that and make those same types of decisions and those same types of reads in the two-and-a-half seconds he has to get rid of the ball?"
On trading back into the first round in 2012, 2013 and 2014
"One is, having enough draft picks gave us the flexibility to do that. Two, when I took over as the general manager, I wanted to build this roster through the draft. Those first three years, I think we were able to get seven draft picks, and if we're doing our job correctly, hopefully those are going to be your building blocks of the future. That gave us I think the building blocks of us continuing, hopefully, to continue on the path that we're going. Now we can just continue to layer on what we've been able to build. I also believe that, if you're going to pay players, you want to make sure that – the ones you know the best are your own. So when their opportunity comes up where they're going to become an unrestricted free agent, we've been very aggressive about trying to hit them a year ahead of time and keep that continuity and keep those players that came up through our system and we developed."
On the interest in trading back into the first round
"Every year it was a little different. Some years, opportunities presented themselves where we were able to move back. I think we were pretty aggressive in moving up for a couple of years. Harrison Smith was one, Teddy [Bridgewater] was one. When there are players we feel strongly about, that we think can be potential unique players for us and building blocks for our future, and then and having a sense that maybe, we were higher in the second, but they're potentially not going to get to you there, to be aggressive and go get the player you covet."
At some point, do you have to think about life after Adrian Peterson, or is that too far off?
"You're always thinking about it. At running back, you're one injury away. We'll eventually get down there. I think Adrian is still a very productive running back in this league. He won the rushing title again this year. It's amazing, the stamina and the physical specimen that he still is, but at some point, everybody has to retire. I don't know when that point is. Adrian may defy the odds and play until he's 50. I don't know. We're very excited about some of the young guys. Matt Asiata came in and has always done a good job in his role. We drafted Jerick McKinnon, who when he has an opportunity to get the ball in his hands, he shows he can be a very explosive playmaker as well. When you're building a roster, regardless if you have an Adrian Peterson or not, you've got to anticipate the potential disaster of a player being gone because of an injury and how you're still going to be an effective football team even if he's not there."**
With Peterson having 357 touches last year and about to turn 31, at what point does the load start to be shared?
"I think that will be a nice question that you can ask Coach Zimmer (Thursday) when he's at the podium. I think our coaches will do an excellent job of trying to balance that out. I know, as we talked about earlier with our coaches finding the balance of what Teddy does well and what Adrian does well. I think the coaches found that balance, but those are questions I would defer to the coaches."
What was your postseason evaluation of Stefon Diggs?
"Young receiver, very talented athlete. I think the biggest thing on him is, and we had a discussion earlier today with some of the beat writers on big receivers versus small receivers. I don't look at it like that. I look at catching radius and length, and sometimes he's not the biggest receiver from a height standpoint, but his catching radius and the ability to make plays, he makes plays like a big receiver. He didn't get on the field early in the season, and when we had some injuries and he got his opportunity, he took advantage of it. That started in the Denver game, and we were pretty lucky or fortunate that we were able to find a guy like him in the fifth round."
What are your thoughts on Brian Robison?
"Brian played, we thought, very well for us. I think he still has a lot of play in him. How his role increases or decreases, that will be determined as we go through training camp and this offseason, but he's still, not only a valuable football player for us, but extremely valuable from a leadership standpoint."