Spielman learning what new coach Zimmer likes
The early days of the latest general manager-coach relationship were eye-opening as much as refreshing.
For the ninth time in franchise history, the Minnesota Vikings have a first-time, first-year coach, but Mike Zimmer’s experience is standing out at the team’s Eden Prairie facility.
In his first days on the job, the well-respected but demanding Zimmer had broken down on film the player traits he wants at every position.
“What type of guys he wants for the system we’re going to run? It’s a lot different with traits he’s looking for with what we’re going to run,” general manager Rick Spielman said.
The team talked to eight candidates in seven days. In his first 30 days with the franchise, Zimmer has shown himself to be intelligent, polished and anything but gruff or abrasive, as reports indicated when the longtime defensive coordinator was passed over for four previous head-coaching jobs.
“I don’t know why all these other teams passed on him, but I’m sure glad they did,” Spielman said. “It’s the right fit at the right time.”
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner got in on the act too. He already established 10 plays designed specifically for scintillating second-year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, a 2013 first-round pick the previous coaching staff didn’t maximize.
“He is a unique talent,” Spielman said. “Not only because of his speed but his movement skills and his size. We traded Percy Harvin away last year and we wanted to get that dynamic back.”
Yet management sets out on another offseason with the same glaring hole at quarterback.
The Vikings are making an appointment with representatives of Matt Cassel during the combine this week. Cassel voided the 2014 season on his contract and a $3.7 million salary. He could return and was endorsed last week by running back Adrian Peterson as his preferred starter. That doesn’t mean the Vikings won’t kick the tires on other veterans, including Michael Vick, Josh McCown and Mark Sanchez, if he’s released by the New York Jets.
Minnesota is interested in bringing Cassel back while looking at “everything” out there. Spielman said the quarterback class is deep, with many flavors.
The Vikings will focus “heavily on the draft” with Turner piloting the process. His input is viewed as significant by Spielman who was with the Miami Dolphins organization when Turner was with the team and said he considers Turner an expert at the position.
“Christian Ponder is the only quarterback we have under contract from last year,” Spielman said. “The encouraging thing was, he came out of that dip and played very well out of that dip. ... He just hasn’t been that consistent. He has shown flashes of it.”
Ponder could return but it would take a surprising set of circumstances to make that reality.
“I saw what Norv did with Jay Feeley in Miami,” said Spielman, who also pointed to Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer exceeding expectations with the Cleveland Browns in 2013. “(Turner) has a history of getting quarterbacks to not only play very good, but beyond what maybe you thought.”
Spielman said the Vikings will not force drafting a quarterback with the eighth overall pick and said he would consider dealing. That would be nothing new. Minnesota made trades to acquire a second first-round pick each of the past two drafts.
“I would love to move down in the draft, just because of how deep this draft class is,” he said. “But if we feel that strongly about a guy at No. 8, we’ll take him.”
n General manager Rick Spielman told USA Today that the team has some concerns about what some of this year’s draft prospects have posted on Twitter.
Spielman said, “There were guys I found on Twitter this year that I can’t believe they would post and retweet some of the stuff they were saying. We wrote a report just on their Twitter accounts. I won’t say the names. But out of the 60 that we did, there are eight guys that we have concerns about their Twitter feeds that we will address here (at the combine).”
Spielman said some of the things tweeted referred to partying and drug use.
n Mike Zimmer spent most of his 21 years in the NFL as a defensive coach, so it is no surprise where he focused his attention in his first 35 days as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
“Any time you finish 31st in the league, you’ve got quite a few holes,” Zimmer said of the Minnesota defense, which was worst in the NFL in points allowed. “We’re going to need quite a few good football players.”
Zimmer hinted that the Vikings’ personnel is versatile enough to use multiple fronts. He coached the 3-4 defense with the Dallas Cowboys and a 4-3 as defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Defensive end Jared Allen, an unrestricted free agent, would not fit as an outside linebacker. He is limited laterally but explosive off the ball. If the price is right, the Vikings would still like to bring him back. Other moving parts on the depth chart in the front seven are edge rusher Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams — a prime five-technique defensive end candidate in a 3-4 alignment — and defensive tackle Fred Evans.
“It’s all about getting the right players that fit the system we’re looking for,” Zimmer said when asked specifically about Allen, who turns 32 next month. “We’d love to sign all of our guys. We understand that we’re not going to be able to sign them all. Hopefully we can get something worked out with him, and we’ll see as it goes.”
General manager Rick Spielman described Zimmer as a grinder who is leaving no stone unturned in assimilating to his first ever head coaching job, even making it look natural. Zimmer said there are still some rough edges to smooth out in the new routine and additional responsibilities that come with being the all-powerful coach on staff.
“The biggest thing for me right now has been the schedules,” Zimmer said. “It’s just a pain in the rear end that you’re trying to do schedules for training camp — when to do red zone, when to do all the situations that come about. That is a part that has been difficult for me.”
He said the Vikings are not ruling out keeping quarterback Christian Ponder, but wants to see him on the field before deciding where — and if — he fits in Minnesota moving forward.
“He’s got a great arm, he runs good, he’s a bright guy,” Zimmer said. “Everyone wants him to live up to expectations. ... I’m not a patient person with anybody. I just think once we get on the field we’ll figure all those things out.”
Spielman said Thursday the Vikings will meet with Matt Cassel’s agent. Cassel ended the season as the starter but opted out of the second year of his contract.
With or without Cassel, could Ponder be the starter for the Vikings in 2014?
“If he’s the best player,” Zimmer said.
n General manager Rick Spielman was asked whether there would be hesitation selecting a quarterback high in the draft after the team’s experience with Christian ponder, the 12th overall selection in 2011.
Spielman said, “You know, that decision’s always going to fall on me. I think we’ve done a lot of great things in the draft, but ultimately, everybody’s trying to find that quarterback, that franchise guy. I think you have to be aggressive to go out there and try to find that guy, keep turning that wheel until you find one you hit on. Are we going to force a quarterback at No. 8? We’re going to take the best player, unless we’re absolutely in love with a guy. If we’re in love with a guy, and they might go before us, we may move up in the draft. If not, I would love to move down in the draft, if we possibly could. There’s so many good players that you’re going to get good players in the third and fourth rounds, for as deep as this draft class is. It’s not to say, ‘Well, you’re not going to take a quarterback at 8 because Christian isn’t where he’s supposed to be right at this time.’ That’s never going to stop you. If we feel strongly enough about a guy, we’ll take him.”
n Spielman was also asked about the potential of running back Adrian Peterson possibly wanting out.
“I know Adrian’s very excited about the new coaching staff,” Spielman said. “He’s very excited about (offensive coordinator) Norv Turner. He’s already been in the offense. I think, if you look at our offense, we have a lot of pieces in place, if we can get that quarterback solidified, however that ends up. We’ve got a very good tight end. We’ve got some depth at the tight end position. You give him (Cordarrelle) Patterson and a Greg Jennings outside at receiver, Jarius Wright, who came up for us last year, and to have a running back like Adrian. I think you’ve got to look at your whole team, and as you look at last year, how many games we lost in the last seconds of the game. We lost five games. If you win three of those, potentially, you’re in the playoffs, the way the division went last year.
“But also, with that comes the blame on the quarterback, too. The defense isn’t going to get blamed. It’s going to be the quarterback. You take all that into consideration in evaluating everything. Christian didn’t play as good as he possibly could. Matt (Cassel) came and won some games for us. But let’s say the defense makes a stop for us in the first Chicago game, or we’re able to win in overtime in Green Bay, where Christian played pretty well. All of a sudden, your record’s different, and maybe you’re thinking differently about it. As a general manager, you have to add in all those factors, but you also have to get that quarterback thing solidified as well.”
Strategy and personnel
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March
—DE Jared Allen
—DT Kevin Williams
—LG Charlie Johnson
—RB Toby Gerhart
—CB Chris Cook
—WR Jerome Simpson
—DL Everson Griffen
—C-G Joe Berger
—LB Desmond Bishop
—LB Marvin Mitchell
—OT J’Marcus Webb
—WR Joe Webb
—DT Fred Evans
—QB Josh Freeman
—DE Justin Trattou
QUARTERBACK: It’s by far the biggest hole on a team with many of them. Christian Ponder isn’t the answer, so it’s time to start over. Again.
CORNERBACK: Xavier Rhodes, a rookie in 2013, is a future league standout, but at least one more elite corner is needed to survive in NFC North.
LINEBACKER: Whether the new staff uses a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense, the Vikings are in serious need of a fast, forceful, instinctive playmaker at linebacker.