Vikings’ Zimmer breaks things down in film class

By Brian Murphy St. Paul Pioneer Press Never went to law school or learned to speak football Latin but I know how to furrow my brow, take notes and avoid eye contact, which allowed me to pass Mike Zimmer's film class Wednesday at Winter Park. Wit...

By Brian Murphy

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Never went to law school or learned to speak football Latin but I know how to furrow my brow, take notes and avoid eye contact, which allowed me to pass Mike Zimmer’s film class Wednesday at Winter Park.

With a wad of dip in his cheek and a twinkle in his eye, the Vikings’ old ball coach was in his glory, breaking down Minnesota’s defense in machine-gun cadence and calling on glassy-eyed media grunts to identify formations.

C-gaps, 6-techniques, inside leverage, backside cut, slide-to-the-curl reads, safety fills … Zimmer barked terminology as he clicked through clips from the 2015 season to project onto the giant screen in the fieldhouse.


He left no air between words as he attempted to educate the men and women critiquing his team about the line rush, run-stopping and pass-coverage responsibilities shared by his 11 defenders.

Who’s using the right technique, and who’s not?

This defensive end got off the ball really fast and drove the offensive tackle back into the quarterback; this safety aligned too deep on that quarterback’s 3-step drop.

Zimmer wore a T-shirt promoting his foundation with the mantra on the back, “Don’t tell me about the labor, just show me the baby.”

He spit into a paper dip cup.

“What’s the Wil linebacker’s responsibility in this coverage?” Zimmer queried one beat writer, aiming his green laser pointer at a mash-up of letters, shapes and dotted lines. No blackboard Xs and Os here.





Not answering is better than vomiting some gibberish. I bobbed and weaved, scribbled some bullet points in my notebook, preparing something pithy to say if Professor Zimmer called out my name.

“In 9-technique, 10 yards deep, Mike, I would definitely intentionally walk, play for the bunt and pull the goalie at the 1:30 mark.”

He never did.

Pro football is a severe game schemed, executed, suffered, celebrated and most understood by somber men.  High-stakes chess and ballet packaged in paramilitary maneuvers wrapped in violence.

It is multilingual espionage that demands physical and intellectual dexterity and discipline from world-class athletes schooled by the sharpest minds and handsomely paid to use brawn and brains to beat the man in front of him.

Keyboard warriors need not apply. We cover their world but it is their world.

Still, a hearty hat tip to Zimmer and the Vikings for ordering the snipers to stand down and opening the Green Zone so the great unwashed could absorb an hour’s worth of Football 101.


Each offseason since he was hired, Zimmer has invited journalists for an off-the-record film analysis. This year featured a tutorial on the Vikings’ base and nickel defense, explaining the myriad formations and philosophies deployed to attack opposing offenses.

Video, audio recording and tweeting were forbidden, of course, so state secrets were protected. Zimmer could have revealed the scripted disguises he intends to use Week 1 at Tennessee and it would have flown over my head like a bullet.

But there is tremendous value in listening to him thunder away about attitude and adjustments like he would in meetings autopsying his team’s game performances or installing that week’s game plan on Wednesdays.

There is value in hearing Zimmer explain how the Vikings are trying to harness defensive end Danielle Hunter’s raw skills and experiment with him standing up on passing downs.

How he reiterates the importance to players away from the ball of doing their job so the teammate closing in on the quarterback or ball carrier can make a tackle that allows the defense to share collective success.

Turning the tables on the inquisitors who scrutinize his lineup decisions, play calling and locker-room intrigue delighted Zimmer, once a teacher, always a teacher. He even admonished a TV anchor for snacking in his meeting space.

What a shrewd, progressive and refreshing way to show some leg to the public.

Somewhere in Foxboro, Bill Belichick and his covert agents are breaking out in hives, hoping the NFL suits do not mandate open film sessions to monopolize the news cycle one more time in May.




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