Rejuvenated, Mike Zimmer Sees an Opportunity for Innovation

Vikings fans are somewhat divided in their perspective on Mike Zimmer. In my opinion, Zimmer is a good coach, so I’m happy he is the man leading Minnesota’s football team. True, he has his shortcomings, but he has done a nice job overall. This upcoming season, though, is really a make or break for him.

Yesterday, Zimmer sat down with reporters, primarily focusing on the direction of his team and the moves they’ve made so far during the offseason. It’s safe to say that one of the main takeaways from the press conference is that Zim is feeling hopeful.

Mike Zimmer Wants to Get The Vikings Defense Back on Track

No one should be pleased with last season’s performance. It was a challenging year, especially with all the injuries. That being said, Zimmer is out of excuses. He is entering year-8 as the Vikings coach. It’s time to put this all together and make a deep run.

Zim knows it’s more important than ever for his defense to bounce back, explaining his enthusiasm about the players they’ve been able to add: “[Spielman and Brzezinski have] gotten me rejuvenated with the guys that they’ve brought in … to help, and then you’ve got guys like Anthony Barr who, he decides to restructure his contract because he wants to be here.” Zimmer thinks that having Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce in the middle of the defense will make life considerably easier for his star linebackers: “[Barr and Kendricks will] have two big guys, two space-eaters that have athletic ability that can win 1-on-1s, hold the double teams for those two guys.”

Add in Patrick Peterson alongside the return of both Weartherly + Alexander and Minnesota’s defense is looking really deep. Peterson, Zim noted, was the one who initiated coming to Minnesota: “We got it done in about five hours; he was in the Bahamas with his family. It was honestly probably a really lucky break that we were able to do that. He kind of initiated wanting to come here, so I thought that was really important.”

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism from the press conference is that Zim indicated that Danielle Hunter is coming back. The result, then, is that Minnesota has a defense that looks really excellent on paper. Zim is the one who needs to ensure excellence translates to the field.

What Innovations Can Fans Expect?

One thing that fans ought to be intrigued about is Zimmer’s hints about being more innovative on defense. When asked about Xavier Woods, Zim specifically brought up his versatility (something we noted not long ago): “He wasn’t always in the box. He played deep, he played some robber, he played a lot of different places … So he has some versatility to do all those things.”

Elsewhere, Zim spoke more candidly about trying new things on defense: “I’ve been really impressed with the coaches that are in there, but also, the offenses have changed so much in the last four or five years, it’s time that we need to do some things differently and change and adapt.”

Zimmer wondered allowed about “what can Gladney do different” as well as “what can Mackensie do?” Zim explained that he and his staff are working through all of these possibilities: “We’ve talked about things with him. What if we decide to play more DBs? There are so many options that we have. Right now, they’re just puzzle pieces and we’re just trying to fit them in as best we can.”

Should fans expect a radically new approach in Week 1? By no means. What fans should expect is Zimmer trying to allow his personnel dictate what kind of packages he is willing to put on the field. It’s safe to say that the secondary is now the deepest part of the defense, so it makes some sense that he might deploy DB-heavy packages on a more regular basis, especially on early downs.

To be successful, Zimmer will need to lean into the strengths of his personnel. The Tomlinson/Pierce duo along the inside certainly opens up the possibility of getting more creative elsewhere. Both players have the capacity to eat up double teams, thereby freeing players behind them to move around freely. Another important factor is having DBs who aren’t afraid to tackle. Gladney and Dantzler were both excellent in this regard during their rookie season. The combination of two massive DTs and DBs who can tackle may free Zimmer to get more defensive backs on the field on early downs.

Conclusion

Mike Zimmer needs to get his Vikings back on the right track. In all likelihood, Zim will be fired if he can’t put together a deep playoff run in the 2021 season. Adding a ton of talent to the defense ought to make life considerably easier crusty coach. If they can find some success along their offensive line, Minnesota will be a team to watch in the NFC.

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