Zimmer dishes on offensive line, Peterson, Bridgewater
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Job security is fleeting along the Vikings offensive line, and if the tackles, guards and centers collectively have not felt the heat beneath their seats, coach Mike Zimmer cranked the burner Wednesday.
BOCA RATON, Fla. - Job security is fleeting along the Vikings offensive line, and if the tackles, guards and centers collectively have not felt the heat beneath their seats, coach Mike Zimmer cranked the burner Wednesday.
At the NFL owners meetings, Zimmer said Minnesota’s top offseason priority was stabilizing its underperforming offensive line, opening up all five starting positions to competition after free agents Andre Smith and Adam Boone were signed this month.
“I feel like every other position group on our football team has a tough-minded personality. I don’t know that our offensive line did,” Zimmer told reporters about the 2015 season. “Teddy (Bridgewater) was running for his life half the time, (and) we had a whole bunch of 1-yard runs. I just felt we needed to make some changes.”
Adrian Peterson rushed for a league-best 1,485 yards, but Bridgewater was sacked 44 times last year and the Vikings’ downfield passing attack was nonexistent.
Boone, who signed a four-year $26.8 million deal, is expected to start at left guard, moving Brandon Fusco back to right guard. Smith, who signed a one-year $3.5 million contract, will compete at guard and tackle, according to Zimmer.
Even left tackle, the job of former first-round draft pick Matt Kalil the past four seasons?
“Possibly,” Zimmer said. “I just want to get as many bodies in there as I could and let them fight it out.”
The third-year head coach also was cool to the notion that the Vikings must acquire another marquee receiver to replace the jettisoned Mike Wallace if they want to improve their passing game.
After Minnesota declined to pick up Wallace’s $11 million contract for 2015, Wallace signed with Baltimore, referencing a desire to play for a more accomplished quarterback, like the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, than Bridgewater.
“I don’t want to get into that Bridgewater and Wallace deal,” Zimmer said. “We had a receiver here that was making a lot of money that didn’t do what we needed to do. So I don’t know that it’s a necessity to go out and sign another wide receiver.
“We’ve got to get better with the guys we’ve got, and we’ve got to fix other areas that can allow these receivers to be more effective in the games.”
Zimmer arrived for his hourlong media session dressed casually in a checkered blue and purple dress shirt, carrying a camouflage backpack.
He spoke candidly about a variety of Vikings subjects as the team prepares for next month’s NFL draft:
On Andre Smith:
“Andre’s a really good athlete and I think he’s got more time to develop. He doesn’t have weight issues. He’s a good guy. He’s started (73) games. He’s got some experience. I like having first-round draft picks that leave other places, because they have pedigrees.”
On selling the offensive line rebuilding project internally:
“When we were trying to get Andre Smith in here, I had Teddy text him, and Adrian (too). And then after we signed him, my text back to those guys was, ‘OK, we got Boone. We got Smith. Now there’s no excuses. You can’t say we didn’t have this or this. It’s time to go now.’ ”
On the hard-nose attitude Boone brings along with his skill set:
“We were looking for that type of person. Someone who would be - outgoing is the best way to say it - in that room. Here’s a quote for you. I feel like every other position group on our football team has a tough-minded personality. I don’t know that our offensive line did.”
On whether center John Sullivan, who missed the entire 2015 season after two back surgeries, will be able to participate in spring workouts:
“We’re hoping. We’ve seen him in the weight room the last week or so. He’s moving a lot better. He looks a lot better. His body mass is changing. He’s getting stronger. But who knows? Until you start pushing on 350-pound men, you really don’t know because it’s different than being in the weight room.”
On Phil Loadholt’s progress following Achilles surgery that also sidelined him all of 2015:
“Good. I saw him in there last week as well. He’s working hard. He’s progressing well. I think they’ll be ready but I don’t know.”
On Cordarrelle Patterson’s future as a receiver:
“It’s really time for him to prove it now. If he wants to be something other than a returner, this is the year he has to do it. If he wants to be an NFL wide receiver, this is his time. A lot of guys grow up slower than others, different times, different stages. Guys blossom in their third or fourth year. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I hope it does, for our sake.
And I’m not trying to make excuses for him, but he wasn’t at (the University of) Tennessee very long. There’s a lot of other factors. I don’t think he was quite really ready when he came into the NFL as far as being a really good professional football player. You’re always hoping because he has the talent to do it. We’re hoping that he does. But there are guys that do and guys that don’t. Right now, he’s right on the fence.”
On Charles Johnson and whether the breakout receiver of 2014 can rebound from an ineffective 2015:
“Yeah, I think he’ll be fine. I know last year was a disappointing year for him, but you can probably say that about every receiver we had, except maybe (Stefon) Diggs. I think he’ll be fine. Him and Jarius (Wright), hopefully Cordarrelle, Diggs, we’ll just keep plugging away. It was just disappointing that we weren’t able to do the things I thought we’d be able to offensively.”
On having two former offensive head coaches - Pat Shurmur, now the Vikings’ tight ends coach, and Tony Sparano, offensive line coach - changing the dynamic for coordinator Norv Turner:
“I just felt they’re two knowledgeable guys that can help us. I’ve been impressed with both Tony and Pat. Their input will be just like it is everywhere else. They’ll have a lot of input. Norv’s been really good about listening and talking. Norv’s been changing a lot. Over the course of the years, a lot of the no-huddle gun stuff, the zone reads, those are all new things. I’m probably more hard-headed defensively than Norv is offensively.”
On Bridgewater’s progression:
“I think that if we fix this one area, I think it’s going to help him a lot more than getting a receiver in here. If we can protect for him, be better in our play-action game, and get (rid) of these non 1-yard runs, we can be more effective offensively and it will allow him to throw a lot more than having a great receiver.”
On Chad Greenway negotiations and whether the veteran linebacker can contribute to the team if he’s not starting:
“We’re talking to him. I think there’ll be a role for Chad, very similar to his role last year. (Anthony) Barr was hurt a couple games, (Eric) Kendricks was hurt a couple games. Audie Cole got hurt. We traded (Gerald) Hodges. It’s a very fluid position because of the nature of the injuries. I think he played a lot more last year than we anticipated, and I think it’ll be the same this year if he signs back.”
On whether his defense can be a top-5 unit:
“I don’t know. I don’t think we’re very good, to be honest. I think we played good in spurts. I’ve been complaining about offense but they don’t have 3-and-outs. We don’t turn the ball over offensively. For the most part they control time of possession, which helped us defensively. I’ll say we were good in situations - third downs we were pretty good, good in the red zone, so that kept some of the scores down. But we can be a lot better. So, probably not. No.
On improving as a head coach:
“I could still do a better job with the offense and the special teams. I still spend a ton of time with the defense.”
On whether he would ever relinquish defensive play-calling:
“I don’t know. It’s kind of my baby, and it’s hard to give up. So I don’t know if I will. It just keeps me so involved. If you’re not helping coach, really … I don’t want to be a CEO. That’s not me.”
On balancing Peterson’s runs out of the backfield versus the shotgun:
“I do think obviously he had some really good runs out of the gun but feels a lot more comfortable when he’s not running out of the gun. So we have to come up with a plan, which we’re working on. Adrian likes to take the ball and go. He doesn’t like to float. That’s a little bit of the issue. We’ve talked about other ways to be innovative with how we can marry that together.”
“I’m going to try to make sure he has success as much as possible. You’re always as good as your last kick, right? We want to make sure a lot of his kicks are good kicks. We’re not going to start him on a 60-yarder the first day of training camp or OTAs. I don’t know that I need to build his confidence, but I’m going to make sure that I don’t need to build his confidence.”
Final word on Bridgewater:
“He thinks he can be legendary. I don’t want to sell him short. The guy’s a worker. He’s smart. He’s a quick thinker. I think he’s got a chance to be pretty good. If he’s legendary, I’ll like that. Teddy wants to win. He’s not really concerned about the stats. He wants to have stats, and he wants to have people think he’s good, but it’s more so about winning. He won six (games) in his rookie year, 11 this year. His record’s better than mine as a starting quarterback.”