Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer enjoyed some R&R at the Zimmer Ridge Ranch in Northern Kentucky, but it’s time to get back to work.
He even moved his flight up a couple of days because he’s ready to return to football mode.
“I’m very excited,” Zimmer recently told Vikings.com’s Mike Wobschall at his home. “This is what we do.”
Vikings rookies are set to report for Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Monday, July 22. Vets will be back in the building on July 25. The first open practice is Friday, July 26.
Fans who attend training camp (click here to reserve tickets) will see a number of new faces on Minnesota’s offensive coaching staff, including Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak, whom the Vikings hired in February.
Kubiak brings more than 30 years of coaching experience. Over that time, he’s had plenty of face-offs with Zimmer’s defenses.
Zimmer said he and Kubiak, on the same sideline for the first time in their careers, have had “tons” of conversations about improving both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
“We sit down and talk about, even when it was Dallas (Zimmer) and San Francisco (Kubiak), we talk about all those times, about when I was in Cincinnati and he was in Houston, when I was here and he was in Denver,” Zimmer explained. “So we’ve talked a lot about different things. And he’s been through so much and played against my defense so much that I think it’s been really good.
“I’ll talk to him about what hurts our defense or what’s hard against our defense, and he’ll talk about what’s hard against their offense,” Zimmer continued. “We’ve talked several times. We’ve talked about Super Bowl experiences and things that he went through in that year and things that I’ve gone through in some of those years.”
Also working with Kubiak will be Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who is new to the role but not to the organization.
Stefanski is entering his 14th season with the Vikings and took over the coordinator position late last season when John DeFilippo was relieved of his duties. Zimmer remembers what it was like to be a young coach in the league and has plenty of confidence in Stefanski, whom he’s worked with since taking the helm in 2014.
“I think the big thing with Kevin is to be precise in what we’re trying to do, be specific in what we’re trying to accomplish [with] the offense that particular week, that particular play,” Zimmer said. “I’ve always said that as long as you go through and you’re specific with the players in exactly what you want them to do, then they can go out and perform and do it.
“Once you do that and you put them in position, then it’s the players’ job to go in and make plays,” Zimmer added. “I always tell the players, ‘Look, I’m going to get you in position to win, but you have to win. I’m going to do my very best to get you in the best position possible, and then when you get to the moment of truth, that’s your job.’ ”
Just like the Vikings have developed young coaches like Stefanski, they have prided themselves on developing young players.
Zimmer was asked about the core of young guys on the team, and he said he “feels good” about the group.
“We’ve been very fortunate that our scouting staff, [General Manager Rick Spielman], they all do a great job in identifying players and working well with the coaches and trying to figure out exactly what we’re looking for in those particular positions,” Zimmer said.
He pointed to a player like defensive end Ade Aruna, who impressed Zimmer early on but spent his entire rookie campaign on Injured Reserve. If the coaching staff can help Aruna maximize his athletic skill set, Zimmer said, he has a chance to be a talented football player.
He also highlighted the importance of having high-character veteran players in the locker room who come alongside the younger players and act as sort of second coaches.
“When Anthony Harris came in here, a guy like him being around Harrison Smith – I think all those things help develop players, as well,” Zimmer said. “We have a lot of really good people on our football team that help these young guys. When Brian Robison helped Everson Griffen, and then on top of it, you bring a guy like [defensive line coach] Andre Patterson in who helps coach Brian Robison to being a better player … [and then Robison could] help Everson, he can help Danielle Hunter and those guys.”
While Zimmer has enjoyed the peacefulness of time away at the ranch, he’s ready to exchange the carefree days and quiet evenings for focused practices and extra film study.
Has he thought much about what his first message to the team will be?
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it a little bit. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to say, but I think there’s some things – I kind of gave them an outline when they left of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Zimmer said. “What I did at the beginning [of spring programming], ‘Phase 1, here’s what we want to accomplish. Phase 2, this is what we’re trying to do. Phase 3, this is what we’re trying to do.’
“And then the last day, after that, then I talked to them about, ‘OK, here’s what we have to do when we come back to training camp,’ ” he added. “So I’ll probably hit that again with them with a few other things that I’ve thought about over the summer.”