Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
Good morning, good to have you all back. We’ll be doing this a lot I’m sure here in the next five months or whatever it is. It’s good to get the rookies back in here. Good chance for us to slow the pace down. Teach, give them an opportunity to refresh what did in the spring, I thought we finished up good in the spring obviously and just part of the journey that we’re starting out here this morning. Get the vets in here on Thursday and we’ll get going to work.
Q: Is this an opportunity to recall?
A: Some. It’s another chance to teach play calls, alignments, different things like that. Obviously, we went pretty fast in the spring so these guys won’t recall everything, some of them, but once they get in the playbook and start getting to the point where they’re going, ‘Oh yeah, this is how we did this in the spring and this is how we did it.” We’re going to keep moving forward these three days and we’ll go back again after three days so they’ll get back to refresh on the first part.
Q: What did you notice that works with bringing players in early versus not doing it?
A: I felt like a lot of these young players now, they have to play so much sooner than when you have a whole bunch of veteran guys. I think that one year that was the rookie class that didn’t really give us much that year so I figured the more that we can kind of help them with these kind of things, the faster they can get up to speed. They might be able to help us a little bit more.
Q: What kind of changes are you making on defense to help the offense?
A: I would probably in baseball term I’d probably say fastball, fastball, changeup, fastball, fastball, throw a slider in there once in a while—just give the offense a couple different looks that they have to work on and things like that.
Q: Do you use last year as motivation?
A: We’ve moved on from last year. Every year’s a new year, so it’s time to move on and go from there. We talked about things we need to do better this spring, but now it’s all about moving forward, where we have to go and how we have to approach things to get there.
Q: How involved are you with the churning of the bottom of the roster?
A: Like the guy yesterday, not much. Rick (Spielman) and George Paton, Ryan Monnens, they do a really good job of keeping everything up to date. (Bill) Parcells used to talk about churning the bottom of the roster all the time just like you did. So, I talk to them about our guys and where we need to get more improvement and they’ll bring me guys and talk about maybe this is a guy you should look at and kind of go from there.
Q: Does he know what you’re looking for by now?
A: Yeah, they have a list obviously of guys that are available, talk about the waiver wire every day, go through the waiver wire. I’ll go through the waiver wire and a guy that I might know, I might have looked at before or something like that, then we get together and we talk about those things.
Q: Is that a matter of creating competition?
A: Not so much that, It’s not motivation that way. I wouldn’t put it that way. There’s a lot of guys on the street that have the ability to play in the NFL if they get in the right system, or they might get a different type of coaching or whatever it is. I think it’s just an opportunity. Even when you’re talking about practice squad guys, guys that get a chance to coach them for a little bit of time and see how they respond with and go from there.
Q: Does experience at tryouts influence whether you add a guy or not?
A: We’ve been really successful with those kind of guys. We’ve had a lot of guys that have been through a rookie tryout that we end up signing. Like I said a minute ago, there’s players that are not playing NFL football that can still play. Whether it’s the league that just folded or the XFL that’s coming up or whatever it is, there’s going to be players in those leagues that end up playing and if you find the right fit or the right niche or the right system, they have an opportunity to play and help you.
Q: How would you characterize Garrett Bradbury?
A: He’s a brilliant kid so that helps a lot. He’s going to have a big load and a time like today will help him get back into the groove of things a little bit. He’ll get help from the veteran offensive linemen and Rick (Dennison) and Andrew Janocko.
Q: Will Garrett Bradbury have to assert himself a little bit more as a center and what do you see from his personality?
A: He’s got a very business-like personality, wants to be right, wants to do things the right way. I think he’s got an aggressive nature. I think he’s going to fit in fine.
Q: Will it help to have guys next to him who have played that position before?
A: Pat (Elflein) had to make all the calls before and like you said, he got help from (Nick) Easton and all those other guys. I think it always helps to have somebody who has done that job before. I’m sure there will be times when Pat will have to, or Kirk (Cousins), will have to correct Garrett (Bradbury) on some of the things.
Q: Will George Edwards take over some of the defensive play calling?
A: I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes.
Q: Will training camp be easier being a second year in this facility?
A: Logistically I think it will be a little bit easier because we’ve been through it. As far as practice and things like that, it probably won’t be any easier.
Q: What do you want to see from the young running backs, Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone?
A: The biggest thing for those two guys, Alexander (Mattison) and Mike (Boone), is really the protection part of things, the pass routes that they have to run, making sure they’re precise on those, carrying the ball for those guys is pretty natural. The other parts really got to get in certain routes, the read routes, they have to go out instead of in, they have to block this linebacker or that linebacker or whichever one comes or the pass off with the offensive line. Those things are all things that take the most time for running backs.
Q: What’s the difference between rookies today and rookies when you first started?
A: Well, they don’t’ have to go through two-a-day with full pads right out the get go every single day. Probably not much. The biggest thing I do think has changed quite a bit since I first started is guys would eat McDonalds and all that stuff. These guys are pretty careful about what they put in their bodies and the nutrition aspect of things, the weight lifting. All the different things that they do now is much more sophisticated, the sleep. All the recovery things that they do is much more sophisticated.
Q: Does Garrett Bradbury being more business-like change the other guys’ approach?
A: Not necessarily. Each guy is kind of different. Some guys need to be more business-like I guess, so it’s just really their individual personalities.
Q: How much time were you able to get away and how much time did you spend on football during the break?
A: I think we’ve got a couple interviews coming out on that but I was away quite a bit. I didn’t do a whole lot of football, a little bit here and there. Had a couple coaches I sat and visited with, watched tape with, things like that, but not much. I was gone pretty good.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman
Exited to get started with training camp. I know after getting away from here for a little bit everyone was anxious to get back. It’s our second year here at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, and I can’t thank the ownership enough for providing all the resources necessary, especially during training camp, to get these guys back and to get them recovered as quickly as they can. It’s made a huge difference for us from that standpoint. I know last year, from a fan perspective, it was pretty special, having the fans out here for the first time. I know we had a lot of great crowds here last year. Expecting even bigger crowds this year. The passion, the energy that our fans bring on a daily basis is really felt and appreciated by our coaches and our players. We have a lot of great competition coming up at a lot of positions, and there will be a lot of difficult decisions to make once we get down to the 53 [man roster]. Excited about what the rookie class has shown so far through the OTAs and the offseason program, and looking forward to seeing if they can carry that over into training camp, but they made a lot of good progress. I know once the offseason started, Coach Zim (Mike Zimmer) really set the tone through the OTAs and through the minicamp. I know it started with the addition of the new offensive coaches that came aboard, led by Kevin Stefanski. I know what Zim wants in this football team. He wants a smart, high character, tough minded and physical football team, and I know that’s how we’ve always won games here. I know that’s what Coach Zim wants to make sure that we establish going into training camp. We also I think have a very unique group of players, not only that are truly passionate about what they do playing on the field, but they truly care for each other off the field and for each other in that locker room. Excited to get started and we’ll expect to have a very successful year coming up.
Q: With all the changes that have been made to the roster and coaching staff this offseason, how do you asses what you have done to improve this team?
A: I think with the addition of the new offensive coaches, and Kevin Stefanski, I can’t describe enough how unique he is. For a young guy that’s an up-and-comer and that is extremely intelligent, to want to get a Gary Kubiak, a Rico [Rick] Dennison, a Brian [Pariani] and a Klint [Kubiak] on this coaching staff. It’s a great resource for Kevin as he continues to grow in this profession. I know he understand what Coach Zimmer wants, he understands how we’re going to win football games, but you see that relationship and how that worked through the whole offseason. Not only what we had done through the OTAs and in minicamp, but also just going through our process as we’ve rebuilt some of the areas on this roster and added to this roster [and seeing] the contributions that some of those guys have made.
Q: Do you feel like you did everything that you wanted to do this offseason?
A: We’ll find out. I know we’re excited about how we ended the offseason, the progress that was made. The guys learning what I would call a new system from what they did last year, something that I think they were very familiar with from some of the things that we’ve done in the past. But there’s also a lot of new wrinkles to this, but I know that was all done in shorts. Now we get an opportunity to get started in pads here, I think on Sunday, and then start building up for that opener.
Q: How have you seen that relationship evolve in terms of the offensive philosophy between Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak?
A: I think the biggest thing is the communication amongst everybody, and the open mindedness. The one thing that I think will lead to our success this year is that there’s no egos up there. Everybody contributes, everybody has an opinion, and everybody’s opinion is heard. I know Coach Zimmer is in a lot of those offensive meetings, and they’re coming up with what’s best for this football team. I think the other critical thing is understanding the strengths of our players, what they do well, and being able to apply their strengths to what we want to run from an offensive scheme standpoint.
Q: How much of a sense of urgency is there considering there are a lot of players who are in their primes?
A: I don’t know if it’s any different from any other year. I mean, if you come in to a season without a sense of urgency, then you’re probably in the wrong business. I think every year if you talk to the 31 other team doing these opening day press conferences they’re probably expecting to go out there and win a championship, or else you shouldn’t be in this business. So the expectations or the pressure are no different than they are any other year. I know last year was disappointing from where we felt we were and where we ended up. I know we did a lot of things to try and correct those areas that we needed to address during the offseason, and I think we’ve accomplished that so far. But it’s yet to be determined, and a lot of that will be determined and established as we go through this training camp.
*Q: How important is consistency? Kirk Cousins is back, the team is back in Eagan for another camp, Kevin Stefanski is back. That seems to make it easier. *
A: Like I’ve said and like Coach Zimmer has said, it’s the second time around the track, so I think everybody already knows what it’s like to have a training camp here. I think Kirk is very familiar with the system, because that’s what he’s run a lot through his entire career. I think how we were able to adjust some of the physical traits we’re looking for up front from an offensive line standpoint to get a clear understanding of what their traits need to be to function in this offense, all that stuff. I think everybody was on the same page who went through this whole offseason. I think you start to see that come together. It’s not there yet and we got a long way to go, and we haven’t seen it in pads yet, but knock on wood that we’re able to stay healthy and not lose any critical pieces, and then let it continue to evolve. I know as disappointing as it was last year, there are a lot of people eager to get back and get after this thing. I know the potential that we have with this football team, and I know with Coach Zimmer leading us on the way that we’re very optimistic heading into this year.
Q: Last time out we talked to Kirk Cousins about his .500 record as a quarterback and the whole ‘next level’ narrative that’s been set throughout the offseason. Are there checkpoints for you during the preseason and training camp to evaluate that?
A: I think the coaches and him are in constant communication. I know there’s a lot of feedback back and forth. I know watching him just from an evaluation standpoint through the OTAs it was totally different than him coming in last year and trying to learn a whole new system. His comfort level, him understanding what’s being asked of him to do. They will do things to make sure that he is comfortable in the offense, that will fit his strengths as a quarterback. You can have all the gaudy stats in the world, but this business is always going to come down to wins and losses. We can have two 1,000-yard receivers and this and that but it’s always going to come down to wins and losses and I know Coach [Mike] Zimmer made it a point of emphasis through OTAs and his team meetings that we’re going to win games on how we win football games. It’s not going to be about stats or individual stats. It’s going to be about what we have to do every week to go out there and win football games. I know that’s the mindset of Coach Zim and that’s the mindset of this football team.
Q: There has been a lot of turnover on the offense staff, defensive staff has been intact for five years. How does that help them develop players on that side of the ball?
A: That’s probably been the most consistent side of the ball for us. That’s why our defense has been pretty consistent since Coach Zimmer has been here and we’ve built that up. The pieces that we have in place and everybody being on the same page right now that hopefully, we get to that point on the offensive side of the ball. Going into the draft and everything we’ve done from a player acquisition standpoint, it was very clear just like it is on defense. I know exactly what he wants in a defensive back, in a corner, in a safety, in a defensive lineman. We have a truly very clear understanding of what we’re looking for in that offensive line right now and the type of traits.
Q: You talked about anticipating tough decisions, what positions come to mind when you’re thinking about what could be the toughest?
A: Depending on where we’re at with the cornerback position, it’s going to be very deep. Defensive line is going to be very deep, there’s going to be a lot of great competition there. Some of the offensive lineman and some of the rookies coming in and how quickly they can adapt compared to some of the Vets upfront. The quarterback position behind Kirk [Cousins], between the three we have backing him up and who that will be. We’ve been impressed with [Sean] Mannion and [Kyle] Sloter and [Jake] Browning, that will be a fun competition to watch when we get going.
Q: What have you figured out with Austin Cutting?
A: I have been in contact with the Air Force Academy so it has been a process any time you're dealing in that situation. I got word last Wednesday that everything was going to go through. I know they have spoken about it with his obligations, but I know that we were very excited to finally get him here and get that resolved so now he can get into camp. That will be another very contested situation who are long snapper is going to be because McDermott has done a fantastic job since he has been here and Cutting has come in and done great so that will be a unique competition as well.
Q: Roc Thomas arrest and suspension. How does that play into things?
A: We base all of our decisions off football decisions, so we evaluate these guys from the minute they walk into our off season program. Where we are at the offensive linemen I wish I could say his name properly, but he showed up at our rookie tryout camp he was a tryout guy. We were monitoring him, we talked to him afterwards that we wanted to get him back at some point, so we kind of watched that progress and kind of monitored the situation in all the positions and decided to get him back here in camp. He knew that was coming because we had kept in contact with him and wanted to get him back here in training camp and from a football decision standpoint that's why it was made.
Q: What did you like about Tiano Pupungatoa?
A: He was an athletic kid that showed up and I know he is kind of a local type kid, but his preparation when he was here. At the end of Saturday night we have a big roster meeting with the coaches and the scouts and we evaluate all the tryout guys so we go through everybody and he was one of the guys that we definitely stared and wanted to get back and that we will get an opportunity to see him practice here. He's got some catching up to do because he missed all the off season but we felt that he was worth bringing back.
Q: How often do you have a conversation with a player after tryouts that you might want to get onto the roster?
A: We divide it up amongst George Paton, Ryan Monnens, and our pro scouts and we call every player that comes in for a tryout. We call their agents and we pull the guys aside that we may want to sign in the future. If we get a potential injury, guys that we already have on the list that were here for that rookie tryout camp. There is a couple guys that we are going to work out this week, one of them we have an interest in here for our rookie tryout camps, so it's a great tool for us to maybe uncover someone that got overlooked but also to kind of build that up. Right now every team has 90 men on their roster, so our street list isn't filled with a lot of great players out there that we had an interest in, but monitoring and that's why we brought them in for workouts. It gives us a tool as our coaches got to work with these guys for a couple days and we got to see them physically what they can do and how they acted in the building. We usually have seven or eight guys that we monitor once we come out if we don't sign them right after the rookie camp that we that we keep on our short lists and we keep in communication with them.
Q: Kirk Cousins—OTA’s, and mini camps—to have him here to start off the rookies, what does that mean to you to work with him and reset early?
A: It’s huge to just build that chemistry and he's really taken a lot to understand the protections and everything that we do, so kind of talking that through with him and the coaches has been huge. Getting more comfortable with him and I mean I can't take enough snaps with the quarterback and other guys next to me, so thankfully, he's here and excited to leave him there and move forward.
Q: Was it hard to get back into it today or just like getting on a bike?
A: Ideally you want it to be just like getting on a bike. Everyone goes home for a few weeks and trains and stays ready, so you can just come back like you never left and jump back into it and keep running the plays.
Q: How was it training with the veterans and other O-lines in Texas?
A: It was a unique opportunity and I had a really good time down there. Duke (Manyweather) put a really good show on and several NFL veterans. Just to hear from them and we talked through a whole bunch of different topics and it was highlighted that we talked through different defensive players, and more than that, Duke just opened it up to what are some recovery techniques, what are some off the field things that mentally, physically. To hear from guys that have done this for seven eight nine years was huge for me entering year one. I was just notebook open, pen to paper the whole time and hearing from a center like Ryan Jenson who was huge so just picking their brains there is so many guys here to learn from and they are willing to help which is huge
Q: Before the entire squad shows up, what do you and Kirk Cousins want to focus on?
A: I mean ideally you want the whole group around. We get three practices in before the whole group comes and individuals just want to work on everything I can those few days, but at the end of the day the offensive line is unique because you need that comradery that unity getting those reps together.
Q: What kind of benefit is it having someone who has played the center position next to you?
A: Pat (Elflein) has been awesome. I can't say enough good things about Pat. He's obviously played the position and played guard and understands offensive line play. He was a rookie two years ago, so he kind of can mentor me in things that helped him and what didn't help him. He's been awesome for me and I am just trying to learn a lot from him and older guys like him.
Q: How is the whole transition going?
A: It's just trusting the preparation and I’ve been studying the playbook a lot and I just need to be confident with my calls. That's just what it boils down to. If I’m kind of hesitant with the call, if I’m late with the call, it just screws the other guys I’m playing with. I need to get up to the line, trust what I’m seeing and what I’m seeing at the moment and just make a call and go with it because with offensive line, if everyone is on the same page then it's going to be a pretty good play. Just understanding that I need to make a call early and be confident with it and vocalize it, communicate to everyone on the line and get reps with these guys.
Q: What's one challenge playing in the NFL?
A: It’s just a new system. I mean I think the coaches have been great and encouraging, (Rick) Dennison and (Andrew) Janocko, have been huge with the offensive linemen. It's a new system for everybody which is great because we can kind of throw things off each other and learn together throughout this and there is a wealth of knowledge in the O-line room, but it’s a new system for them at the same time. We are kind of learning together which has been good as a rookie so I'm helping them, their mainly helping me, but we can kind of bounce ideas off each other and thoughts.
Q: Do you feel like you have a leg up at all since you played in an outside zone for so many years? What are the differences in a college outside zone system and what you are going to run here?
A: There is just a little bit more detail. You need to understand the defenses a little more, but I don’t know that it is a leg up. It is just a play that I love running as an offensive lineman and it is a really good scheme. Obviously, these coaches have ran it a lot for several years, so I think the guys in the locker room that haven’t been a part of it understand how good it can be just from the OTA’s that we have had, so I think everyone offensively is really excited about this different kind of run scheme and pass team offensively that we are doing.
Q: You feel like this is something you have waited your whole life for with the expectations of others?
A: Yeah, I think expectations and pressure, you don’t listen whatever other people are saying. I mean, I have my own expectations to accomplish this first year and this offensive line and this offense in general. It starts with training camp and so that is where all my attention is, that’s where my efforts and my focus are learning this play book, working through training camp with these guys, building some continuity among the offensive line with Kirk (Cousins) and just offense in general. Everyone can say what they want but that is what I am focused on right now.
Q: Have you asked Pat Elflein or any of the other veterans that weekend how to handle that or rookie season or have you not talked about that part?
A: Everyone is still coming back. Everyone kind of enjoyed their off time but everyone is just taking it one day at a time. Just don’t pay attention to it. I haven’t extensively talked to them about it but I will learn as we go, especially from talking to those guys a little more but we had a few good weeks during OTA’s and we have a good season ahead of us so there will be plenty of time to learn from them.
Q: On the field, what are some of the things that Pat Elflein has helped you with the most?
A: Little technique things. You have great coaching obviously from Coach (Rick) Dennison and (Andrew) Janocko but to hear from a player in between plays, watching film or by ourselves is just a little different. He is a guy who has started two full seasons in the NFL, so hearing things that he does week in and week out against different guys in the NFL is huge.
Q: How did the opportunity come for you to go to Texas and take part in that event?
A: The guy who runs it, Duke (Manyweather), reached out to me. Rashod Hill, one of our tackles trains with Duke and last year was the first year and he went last year. He told me how good of an experience it was so I went down and stayed with Rashod and had a really good time. Just hearing about what it was, I figured I had a few weeks off and it would be great, it was the weekend before I came out here. To get my mind ready, set back on football
Q: Anything you want to try from it when you get on the practice field? How does the process work?
A: Yeah, like I said there were a whole lot of topics that we talked about. Just trying to take little pieces from everything, from every different guy and understanding that I’ve got a long way to go. Hearing the mental thought process that some of the NFL centers have for each play pre-snap. Understanding that I need to get my play book, you never have it, you never understand it. You always learn more and kind of grow more.