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Vikings Will Take 'Strategic' Approach to Building 2020 Roster

EAGAN, Minn. — In separate press conferences Monday afternoon, both Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer praised how their relationship has grown in recent years.

One aspect of that bond, both men said, is their hunger and desire to put together a talented roster each season that is able to compete for a Super Bowl.

Spielman and Zimmer's focus is the same once again now that the calendar has turned to August, although there are undoubtedly different circumstances these days of how they will construct that roster for the 2020 season.

"Obviously, it's a really good positive that we've worked together this long," Zimmer said. "Sometimes people would call it a negative, but Rick and I have a great relationship. We see things, really, through the same eyes 99 percent of the time.

"Very, very rarely do we ever argue or get in a situation like that. He can be hard-headed. I can be hard-headed," Zimmer added with a smile. "But at the end of the day we know that we both have to work extremely well together, and we certainly do."

Added Spielman: "When Coach Zim' came and we hired him as our head coach, we had a vision of how we wanted to build this team."

Spielman and Zimmer have helped build a strong roster in the six seasons since Zimmer arrived in 2014, going 57-38-1 with three playoff berths, a pair of NFC North titles and an appearance in the NFC Championship.

But things are different for the Vikings, and every other NFL team, as training camp ramps up.

There are no preseason games in 2020, and padded practices won't start until mid-August. That is also when all NFL rosters have to be down to 80 players instead of the usual maximum of 90 in recent years.

That means Spielman, Zimmer and all of Minnesota's front office and coaches will have to be extra diligent in how they evaluate and construct the roster.

Zimmer noted the lack of preseason games removes a vital evaluation tool for coaches and scouts.

"The most difficult thing quite honestly – we can go out there, and practice guys see the same plays all the time, but then they go out there in a preseason game and see plays they haven't seen before," Zimmer said. "You have to see how they react and how they move and how they think on the field without a coach telling them, 'Hey move to your left or move to your right or whatever it is.'

"I think that's going to be the most difficult part. You're going to miss some of those evaluations where they're out there on their own. So, we're going to try to, like I'm sure everybody is, put them in as many game-like situations as we possibly can," Zimmer added. "And we do that anyway. At the end of practice, we've done it now for several years, whether it's the last 10 minutes of a ball game or two minutes in the ball game. We try to put these players in as many situations as we can."

From a front-office standpoint, Spielman said it will be all-hands-on-deck to evaluate dozens of players, especially from Minnesota's scouting department.

"I know, in the past, we've done a thorough job of not only evaluating our team, but also evaluating the 31 other teams through preseason games," Spielman said. "We have a plan in place to make sure we get an extra set of eyes on these guys. Right now, our college scouts — because they're not out on the road at this point — are going to be heavily involved.

"In the past, they'd come in for a week and get a snapshot of the roster and then they're off doing their thing," Spielman added. "This year, because of the changes, they're all going to sit in the virtual meetings. They're also going to evaluate the tape. Some have a position, some have the whole offense or the whole defense. [Vikings Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson], is going to have the whole team. We're going to have a lot more eyes and a lot more evaluations to determine the 53 than we normally would."

Those evaluations will also come into play for the practice squad, which has been increased to 16 players for the 2020 season.

Spielman said the Vikings will be "very strategic" in how they assemble that group of players, too.

"We have to go through where we end up with our final 53 and strategically, how many guys you keep at each position and how many guys you keep on practice squad, in case you do have someone that can't play because they test positive for COVID," Spielman said. "Do you have enough depth potentially on your practice squad?"

Zimmer has joked with reporters in recent years that he doesn't have a crystal ball, even though he was eventually gifted one. But he quipped Monday that the Vikings might have to think longer term than normal when evaluating some younger players.

"Like I told the players and coaches as well, there may be some first-year guys that aren't as good as the second-year guy right now," Zimmer said. "But at some point in time, they're going to pass them by so we have to be able to a little bit predict down the future. We're going to try to put them in as many situations as we can."

The Vikings roster will soon be down to 80 players. By the start of the season, it will be reduced to 53, with 16 more on the practice squad.

With such unique circumstances surrounding training camp this season, Spielman, Zimmer and others will rely on their history together and passion for the game to help build a winner in 2020.

"Rick's a football guy," Zimmer said. "He loves the process of digging out players, understanding schemes, understanding what we're looking for in each particular position.

"Then being able to relay it to the scouts, and then working together with us and the coaches," Zimmer added. "I think the biggest compliment you can give to a general manager is that he's a football guy."

Added Spielman: "I think it's sticking to your principles, sticking to everything that you believe in on how you build a winning culture."