EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive guru and a man who has built a reputation by being one of the league's best coaches at shutting down opposing offenses.
But after Minnesota's offensive line struggled with injuries and execution in 2016, Zimmer has had more of a hand in helping the line get ready for the upcoming season.
"Part of it is, I want them to know I've got their back," Zimmer said. "I'm going to sit in there with them. I'm listening to them and communicating with them. I'm trying to tell them things, defensively.
"I talk to Sam [Bradford] all the time about things that I think defensively and how other people might think. While I'm sitting in there they might ask me, 'With this rotation, where's the blitz coming from?' Or, 'How's the linebacker going to react to this kind of play and things like this.' I'll tell them the things that I see that's really tough on a defensive end or whatever," Zimmer said. "I think it's been good and it's not that I'm overlooking any of those guys. I want them to know that they're my guys."
The Vikings used eight different starting offensive line combinations in 2016, and started five different left tackles. Minnesota ranked last in the NFL with 1,205 rushing yards and was last with an average of 3.2 yards per carry.
The Vikings and General Manager Rick Spielman beefed up the line this offseason, adding a pair of tackles in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. Both are expected to start this season.
Minnesota also added center/guard Pat Elflein and guard Danny Isidora in the draft, bringing young talent to the position group.
Veteran Joe Berger, who started 2016 at center and finished at right guard, worked at right guard with the first team during Organized Team Activity and minicamp practices beside center Nick Easton.
Add it all up, and left guard Alex Boone could be the only lineman who resumes the same starting spot he had at the start of the 2016 season.
With Reiff and Remmers on the outside, the interior of the line could see Boone at left guard, Easton at center and Berger at right guard.
Zimmer noted that Easton and Elflein will fight for playing time during training camp.
"They're both doing good," Zimmer said. "Again, it's going to come down into training camp and things like that. We may look at some other scenarios as well."
With Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano back for his second season in Minnesota, players said they can sense a revamped attitude within the unit.
"I've got great teammates, great guys in the room," Reiff said earlier this spring. "We're in the beginning steps right now. We're working. It's all we can do. I'm not going to say much, but we're out there working together, building camaraderie."
Added Remmers: "Just from what I've heard from the guys who have been here, going into this season has been a completely different change of pace and a different mindset. From what I've seen, everyone works so hard here. We're going to do everything we possibly can to have the most success on the field."
At the end of spring practices, Zimmer noted the real test will come in pads — whether that's at training camp or in the preseason.
But in the few weeks that Zimmer has spent with his new-look offensive line, he likes what he observed.
"They seem pretty focused," Zimmer said. "They're not a big joke-around room, they have their little fun here and there. I think they just want to get it right.
"Like Reiff said to me, 'I've made money in this game, I just want to win a Super Bowl.' That's kind of his mentality," Zimmer added. "I think it's good for the football team."