It only took three days of rookie mini camps in new Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer’s first year to decide that the defense he was working with just wasn’t good enough. Too many young players, too many mistakes, too many break downs in pass and run coverage to prove to the new, defensive minded coach that this team was going to be able to stop anything from a heavy monthly flow to a NFC North quarterback.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Coach Zimmer, after only three days, decided he needed to take the most desperate measures of all. He ended up signing himself at linebacker, and decided that only he could understand his defense, and solidify his team.
Yes, Mike Zimmer has joined the Vikings defense. On, and off, the field.
While not completely unheard of to have a player-coach on a football team, the reverse order or coach-player is a new spin on an old classic. Coach Zimmer joins former players-turned-coaches like Curly Lambeau for the Packers and George Halas for the Bears, coaching and playing for the same team at the same time. But whereas those player-coaches did so because their teams were included local YWCA coaches, Zimmer is offering his services on the field as well because he’s simply the best available option.
Despite drafting Anthony Barr, a versatile outside linebacker, in the first round of the NFL draft this offseason, the middle linebacker position on the Vikings is still up for grabs. Audie Cole, Michael Mauti, and Jasper Brinkley are all veteran candidates who will – in time – show Zimmer what they are capable of in the middle of the defense, but it is expected that none of them will be able to oust the 57-year old head coach-turned-linebacker when training camp comes around.
Zimmer may just be the best option for the Vikings, as well. As middle linebacker and defensive genius for the team on the sidelines, who better to have on the field communicating defensive positioning and schemes to teammates? Zimmer knows his own defense like the back of his hand, and he’ll be able to get his teammates into position immediately, or threaten them with being cut, all within the first 10 seconds of a huddle break. Zimmer’s fiery sideline demeanor is also a perfect compliment on the field, amping his own players up and encouraging them to play at a high level.
How will this play out during regular season games? That remains to be seen. Certainly, older players like Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, and Mike Zimmer need additional electrolytes and time off throughout the week to help themselves heal their bodies and mentally prepare. At Zimmer’s age, he may also need a coffin ala Dracula to fully recuperate. But, if he is able to perform at even half the level he anticipates, the Zimmer-led Vikings defense may be the most dominant seen since the Super Bowl Ravens.
Exciting, and ground breaking, times ahead.