MOBILE, Ala. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer started his survey of Wednesday's action of the North team's practice for the Reese's Senior Bowl with the secondary.
Zimmer stood almost as close as Titans coaches who are working with players on the North team that are eligible for this year's draft and watched through sunglasses with camouflage frames and a purple Vikings hooded sweatshirt.
He observed players going through agility drills as well as defend receivers on multiple types of routes in one-on-one matchups, including a great view of a touchdown by Stanford's Ty Montgomery on a deep route against Southern Cal's Josh Shaw before moving to position groups at other parts of the field.
It's somewhat natural for Zimmer to start a day with the secondary. The position group has been a hallmark of some of his best-performing defenses as a coordinator, and the Vikings group made multiple improvements in his first season as coach.
Zimmer and his staff have been working with General Manager Rick Spielman and the personnel department to evaluate the more than 100 prospects that are scheduled to participate in the 66th annual game on Saturday.
Just before hitting the practice field, Zimmer met with beat writers who made the trip to the Gulf Coast and said he is encouraged by the progress the Vikings have made in the past year.
"I think I have, obviously, a better opinion of where we're at and where we need to improve," Zimmer said. "Last year, I can remember walking up when we had our first draft meeting and had the board, I was like, 'Oh my goodness, look at all these holes we have.' We're way ahead of where we were at that point. Some of the guys we brought in last year really helped, and we've still got some spots we've got to get a little better at, but I feel like we're going in the right direction."
Two changes in this year's Senior Bowl are likely to increase opportunity to evaluate pass coverage and receivers. The game will add the option of playing slot corner, and will also have a two-minute drill at the end of each quarter. Zimmer said he thought the additional corner in the slot reflects the emphasis passing attacks have placed on the middle of the field.
"That's what the league is now," Zimmer said. "That's where everybody plays, so that guy really plays more than one of the linebackers does nowadays. I think it's good to be able to evaluate these guys more."
Zimmer's evaluation shifted to the South team's practice, led by Jaguars coaches Wednesday afternoon.