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Zimmer Preparing for 'Normal' But Mindful of Possible Adjustments

EAGAN, Minn. — The offseason program for NFL teams is obviously far from normal this year.

Players are distance learning and making workout accommodations, and Head Coach Mike Zimmer is blending football, farming and family time at Zimmer Ridge Ranch in Northern Kentucky.

Zimmer explained Wednesday during a call with media members that he and the team are approaching plans for the season as if everything that has been altered because of the COVID-19 pandemic will be returned to normalcy by the scheduled go time.

One has to start somewhere, right?

"We're planning on the season being normal, as best we can, and then obviously we'd have to adjust with everything," Zimmer said. "It's just the uncertainty of knowing where we're at … like everybody in the world right now. 'When can we go to dinner? When can we go to a restaurant? When can we go to the gym?' Really, for us, it's not any different other than we have an assumption of when we might get back, and then we'll adjust to it when that happens."

The 2020 schedule was released last week, and Minnesota is slated to open its 60*th*NFL season by hosting Green Bay during a Kickoff Weekend for the first time, but NFL facilities have been closed for two months. Players voted and approved (by just 60 votes) a new CBA in March as much of the sports world was screeching to a halt.

Zimmer was asked if the current uncertainty could be compared to what occurred during the lockout/work stoppage of 2011. When teams and players were unable to finalize a new collective bargaining agreement, facilities closed in March and didn't reopen until July 25. An agreement on a 10-year deal allowed the reopening.

Zimmer, who was an established defensive coordinator with the Bengals at the time, didn't remember the exact timeline but said "there was plenty of time to get the season ready."

"I'm not really concerned about if they give us five weeks or three weeks or whatever it is; we'll figure out how to best utilize those particular weeks," Zimmer said. "It's fortunate for us, like I said, we have a lot of veterans offensively. I'll be more concerned about working with the technique of each and every player when they get here. That might take three weeks – who knows? Each player's a little bit different. But that will be the biggest factor. Because you can't just roll the ball out and play. You can't just say, 'Hey, here's your playbook; now you go out and play.' It doesn't work like that. They know what to do, but they don't know how to do it."

Zimmer is preparing for his seventh season as Minnesota's head coach.

The Vikings were able to build a strong degree of continuity around quarterback Kirk Cousins by promoting Gary Kubiak to offensive coordinator after Kevin Stefanski's departure to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns. There are returning players up front, in the backfield and at tight end. Adam Thielen is back as well, but the receivers room will have multiple new additions, including free-agent signee Tajaé Sharpe and first-round pick Justin Jefferson.

The defense is poised to have the biggest overhaul of starters during Zimmer's tenure, but Co-Defensive Coordinators Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer have several years of experience with the defense and returning players.

Some have wondered if the scheduling of Cincinnati (close to Zimmer Ridge Ranch) and Cleveland (the connection with Stefanski) as Minnesota's road preseason opponents could lead to joint practices. Prior to opening the 2016 preseason, the Vikings held joint practices with the Bengals in Cincinnati where Zimmer was an assistant for Marvin Lewis from 2008-13. Lewis was replaced by Zac Taylor last season.

The Vikings are scheduled to host the Texans and Seahawks for their preseason home games. Minnesota held joint practices with Jacksonville before hosting the Jaguars during the 2018 preseason. Houston and Seattle, however, are on Minnesota's regular-season schedule, and it would be hard to fathom teams wanting to give any kind of direct scouting report, even if they could perhaps glean information in return.

Zimmer explained his current mindset when asked if teams might be more or less likely to schedule joint practices. 

"Before all of this happened, I had a couple of teams call and ask if we would want to practice together," he said. "I've thought about it a little bit. The problem I foresee in having the joint practices is you may not be able to get your guys up to speed fast enough for what they have to do, as opposed to worrying about another player.

"If it gets down to it, I can see there might be, again, depending on how much time we have during training camp or before the games, or all of those things, I could possibly see having maybe a one-day practice against a team," Zimmer added. "I don't know that I want to spend two or three days when you're trying to get your team ready to play."

Zimmer said the virtual meetings are going well but added that the rookies are behind, which isn't an uncommon sentiment this time of year. The biggest discrepancy is a lack of opportunity to make on-field corrections, a valuable part of developing young players and helping them transition.

Zimmer also is staying informed of plans through communication with Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman.

"Eric Sugarman is the head of a committee, so he fills me in all the time on where they're at and what they're thinking and what they're hoping for," Zimmer said. "I let him talk to the team a fair amount. I just tell them, 'The better we prepare ourselves to understand what we may have to go through, and what we have to do initially, especially early, it may end up giving us an advantage in how we can go out and go play.' "

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