Friday, November 28, 2014

Zimmer’s era to start for real

MINNEAPOLIS—After working for two decades in the NFL to fulfil his desire to become a head coach, Mike Zimmer finally has reached the real deal.
Minnesota Vikings’ training camp starts tomorrow—and the season-opener is a little more than six weeks away.

Despite the popularity of Zimmer’s predecessor, Leslie Frazier, the Vikings have exuded the familiar optimism of a team with a fresh start throughout spring practices.
The praise for the new atmosphere, style, and expectations is a predictable theme around the league whenever a change in the man in charge is made.
The same type of attitude was conveyed when Frazier took over three years ago and Zimmer’s presence merely is the latest phase in this constantly churning, pressure-packed cycle of the NFL.
That doesn’t mean the outcome can’t be different this time, though.
Zimmer has inherited a roster containing 10 former first-round picks, seven of whom were drafted in 2012 or later, and the Vikings went 10-6 just two seasons ago.
“It’s no longer about trying to be a top-10 defence,” stressed defensive end Brian Robison. “It’s no longer about trying to make the playoffs.
“Coach Zimmer will tell you straight up: ‘We’re not trying to make the playoffs.’ Your goal has to be, ‘We will make the playoffs. We will be the best defence in the league.
“‘We will go to the Super Bowl.’
“Those are the type of things I’m talking about it,” Robison added.
“It’s just that the way we think is totally different.”
Still, the quest for a long-term franchise quarterback has reached almost a decade for the Vikings—and rookie Teddy Bridgewater is the newest nominee.
His arrival from Louisville has elicited higher hopes than Christian Ponder’s in 2011, and make no mistake: the job will be Bridgewater’s sooner than later.
First he’ll have to beat out Matt Cassel, who was re-signed to sustain the bridge between first-rounders.
After Ponder’s flop last year, Cassel proved again he’s a capable starter.
He’d be the safe pick. But if Bridgewater blows the coaches away in practice and pre-season, then all bets are off.
Zimmer has said he’s not afraid to play rookies.
The natural attention on the quarterback might make it easy to forget that Anthony Barr, the outside linebacker from UCLA, was selected 23 slots ahead of Bridgewater in the first round.
He’ll likely join 31-year-old Chad Greenway—the only proven player at this position group—and Jasper Brinkley, who was re-signed for the middle spot after one season away, in the starting lineup.
Barr has a lot of learning to do, as a converted fullback who played only two years on defence in college, but his athleticism will be an immediate asset.
“I’ve never had a linebacker, even thinking back into my Dallas days, who has the size and the speed and all of the things that this guy has,” Zimmer noted.
One of the few highlights from last season for the Vikings was the late emergence of Cordarrelle Patterson as a game-changing wide receiver and kick-off returner.
Patterson was at his best when Cassel was on the field—and his role only will increase under new offensive co-ordinator Norv Turner.

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