In Mike Zimmer’s first training camp as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, he has brought a breath of fresh air to Mankato, or at least the smell of sweaty football pads. His coaching style is in stark contrast to the Vikings last head coach, Leslie Frazier, in that he brings a lot more emotion and grit, and it’s shown in the Vikings’ practice. So far, practice has been physical, yet productive. “Obviously, we want to be disciplined and tough coming out of training camp,” said Zimmer in an interview with the Star Tribune, “But there’s a fine line, and we need to make sure we get out of there healthy, too.”
The Vikings have also stressed sound tackling during every practice, and in the same interview Zimmer said “Typically, the worst defensive teams are the ones that tackle the worst.” The best way to describe a Mike Zimmer defense is that it’s a tough, fundamentally sound, and don’t give up a lot of big plays.
Zimmer has probably already said more curse words in his first week of training camp than Leslie Frazier did in his entire tenure as head coach. More than just cursing though, all throughout practice you can hear Zimmer’s voice shouting instructions and critiques of what players need to do better. Although he likes to yell, it’s always constructive. He may be a great defensive coordinator, but he’s also a great teacher; Zimmer is constantly coaching guys up, by refining their technique and making them better football players.
It’s well noted how poorly the Vikings’ defense played last year, ranking last in nearly every statistical category; but with Mike Zimmer taking control of the defense, the Vikings will surely have a better defense this season. Last season under Leslie Frazier, the Vikings ran a lot of cover 2 coverage, more specifically the “Tampa 2 coverage”, as Frazier was a coaching disciple of Tony Dungy. This year, the Vikings will be looking to mix things up a lot, running different personal and different coverages to confused the quarterback. The Vikings could run some 3-4 fronts, as well as 4-3 fronts, but it isn’t clear what they will make their base defense (Zimmer liked to run a lot of 3-4 fronts in his time with the Bengals.)
More than changing the defensive scheme, Zimmer is looking to make the defense more aggressive. He will also look to substitute pass rushers out of the game very often to keep them fresh, something that the Super Bowl champion Seahawks did with great success last season. Zimmer has sparked competition at every position, and he has often said that no one is a guaranteed starter (although this may be an over exaggeration, it’s great to see that he’s making guys competitive during practice.)
Ultimately, I think the addition of Zimmer as a head coach will be the biggest move of the offseason, because The Vikings’ defense will be much better with Zimmer heading the defense. I expect the Vikings to win a lot more close games, instead of losing them in the last two minutes. Zimmer will definitely make the Vikings better at situational football, when players need to make plays the most, and a place where the Vikings have struggled in the last few seasons. The Vikings might not be a playoff team this year, and there will be plenty of growing pains with having a new head coach, but I think Rick Spielman has found the right guy in Mike Zimmer, the 9th coach in Minnesota Vikings’ history.