EAGAN, Minn. – With two preseason games under the Vikings belt and two remaining, Head Coach Mike Zimmer has several takeaways – both positive and negative.
Zimmer spoke to Twin Cities media members Tuesday and elaborated on Sunday night’s win over the Seahawks after reviewing the tape.
According to Zimmer, the offense “did a good job” and looked the way he’s envisioned the system to run under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski, “with the quarterback moving around, getting the ball out.” He also addressed the run game specifically, which wasn’t quite as effective as in Preseason 1 but made an impact, nonetheless.
“We had a couple where guys came back door on us and got us, so we’ll have to work on that. But we stuck with it and made some plays,” said Zimmer.
He was pleased with Minnesota’s decrease of penalties after being flagged 13 times at New Orleans and said that defensively, the tackling was “for the most part” improved.
“Probably gave up too many big plays with the first group, so we’ll get back to work on that today,” Zimmer said. “Special teams, I think we still need to do better in our coverage and our return game. We’ve got some work to do there. We’ll look at some of these young guys and see if they can help us.”
When asked about busted coverages that he mentioned during his postgame press conference Sunday, Zimmer said it was “mostly miscommunication” that led to the breakdown and would be a focus in Tuesday’s afternoon practice session.
View exclusive images shot by Vikings team photographer Andy Kenutis as the Vikings and Seahawks competed against each other in a preseason matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Here are four other topics Zimmer covered during his media session:
1. A look at young d-linemen
Zimmer was asked specifically about young defensive linemen Stephen Weatherly, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Hercules Mata’afa, all of whom received solid playing time during the first two preseason games.
Weatherly typically plays defensive end, but he has been asked occasionally to move inside, a position Zimmer said he has to improve on “a little bit.”
“He’s a really good athlete, played on his feet in college. He can do all those things we’re asking him to do,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to put his hand in the dirt today and see how he does. We’ll just see.”
Odenigbo was described as improving “a lot” at defensive end. Zimmer credited his power, physicality and work ethic with paying off. As far as Odenigbo’s position, the head coach said he’s being looked at on the outside and inside.
“I think he just feels a lot more comfortable on the outside going against the pass rush,” Zimmer said.
Mata’afa has taken lots of snaps during the preseason after missing all of last year with a torn ACL. Zimmer said he plans to primarily evaluate him in on nickel this Saturday against the Cardinals.
“I want to see if he can just pass rush,” Zimmer said. “We’ll just kind of go from there, because I think that’s what his role will be this year, if [he is a part of the active roster]. I’ve got to find out if he can go in there and rush on third down.”
2. Looking for someone to stand out
When Zimmer looks at the young wide receivers and defensive backs vying for depth positions on the roster, he has been slightly disappointed to not see definite standouts.
“They’re hard to separate right now,” he said of the receivers. “When we talk about it in the personnel meetings and things like that, it’s one guy has a good day, then he has a bad day. The consistency of what they’re trying to do is really hard to get a handle on.”
The depth at secondary, Zimmer said, is in a similar situation, “kind of up and down.”
“They have a good play or a bad play. Speaking of the couple coverage busts, a couple of them were the young guys [against Seattle],” Zimmer said. “They need to be more consistent.”
3. Opening at reserve nickel corner
It’s safe to say that Mackensie Alexander has the nickel cornerback spot on lockdown. But behind him?
Zimmer was asked if the reserve spot was “wide open,” and he responded, “I would say so, yeah.”
He did say that free agent signee Bené Benwikere could be a candidate.
“He’s still learning it, so he had a couple of mistakes in [the slot] the other night,” Zimmer said. “But I think that’s probably his spot if he’s going to be here. I think that fits his physical attributes the best.”
4. Report card on Kyle Sloter
Backup quarterback Kyle Sloter has made a few big plays over the first two preseason contests, and a reporter asked if the outings have “upped the competition” for the QB2 spot. Currently, that role has belonged to Sean Mannion.
“I don’t know. I don’t know that you guys [in the media] know all the little details about everything; you just see how he [performs in the] game,” Zimmer said. “He’s got to get a lot better in a lot of the other parts of being a quarterback. Making the right checks, getting people in the right formation, making sure the motion is there, not missing the time clock when it’s eight yards in front of you.
“There’s a lot of things that he has to get better at if he wants to be the backup quarterback,” Zimmer added.
5. Letting the roster play out
In less than two weeks, the Vikings will need to make roster cutdowns.
Does Zimmer already have an idea of how he wants the roster breakdown to be, as far as number of players at each position? He said he has a “general idea” but also is open to how things may play out. He explained:
“Let’s say you want to keep 10 defensive linemen, but you’ve only got nine that can play, so you’re going to take that extra spot and you’re going to put it at maybe the receiver spot or the tight end spot, quarterback or whatever it is. So that’s kind of how it all varies. You kind of go in thinking, ‘We’re going to have this many [running] backs, this many tight ends,’ but if we don’t think that they’re good enough to be on the team, then we don’t worry about it. Or maybe we want to keep nine defensive linemen, but we think we have ten really good ones, then we’re going to keep them.”