Vikings leaning toward defense
MINNEAPOLIS — It didn’t take long for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman to see that Mike Zimmer never stops coaching.
Then during recent meetings in preparation for the NFL draft, the Vikings coach went beyond talking about various prospects, turning to X’s and O’s.
“Coach Zimmer would draw up a scheme and talk about this particular player,” Spielman said. “This is how we would use him. This is he’s going to fit in our scheme.”
Spielman hired Zimmer in January to replace the fired Leslie Frazier, and it hasn’t taken long for the new coach to earn his general manager’s trust. Spielman said Zimmer will have “a huge input” on what the Vikings do in the draft, which runs today to Saturday.
Zimmer already has had considerable input on Minnesota personnel. A longtime defensive coordinator, he came in wanting to build a strong defense, and that’s what the Vikings focused on in free agency.
All of the team’s top moves were on defensive players, highlighted by the signings of defensive linemen Linval Joseph and Corey Wootton and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. While Spielman also wanted to beef up Minnesota’s shaky defense, players brought in have fit what Zimmer likes to do.
“We were on the same page,” Zimmer said of working with Spielman in free agency. “We knew that we were going to lose some players in free agency. … We felt there were some areas we needed to improve in. But we always want to build through the draft. We don’t want to be a free-agency football team. We want to build through the draft.”
Now that the draft has arrived, Zimmer continues to let Spielman know what he seeks on the roster.
“We work together,” Zimmer said. “We’ve sat in the meeting room … and gone over different things. I always give my input. I don’t hold my feelings back. I’m going to go ahead and say what I think. But I do believe even the things that I say I’m looking for in a player, it may not be that position, but it might just be what I’m looking for in people.”
While there has been plenty of speculation that the Vikings might take a quarterback, namely Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, with the No. 8 pick in the first round, it now seems more likely they will go with a defensive player. Minnesota also could trade down to get an extra pick or two.
Defensive players the Vikings are considering include Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert.
Zimmer is better versed on defensive players in the draft, while offensive coordinator Norv Turner might have Spielman’s ear more on offensive players. During meetings, Spielman has been talking to Zimmer about what to expect in his first draft as a head coach.
“We went through eight days of position meetings,” Spielman said. “Coach Zimmer was in every single meeting. I think it’s important for him to understand if we take an offensive player, this is why we’re taking him. If we take a defensive player, this is why we’re taking him. He has to understand the strategy going into this and why we’re selecting the players we’re selecting.”
In addition to the No. 8 pick in today’s first round, the Vikings enter the draft with seven more picks: the No. 40 pick in the second round and Nos. 72 and 96 in the third on Friday, and No. 108 in the fourth, No. 148 in the fifth, No. 184 in the sixth and No. 223 in the seventh on Saturday.
When it all ends, it would be surprising if disagreement is evident between Spielman and Zimmer.
“There’s always questions, ‘How you doing with the GM?’ and all that stuff,” Zimmer said. “Fantastic. He is a good guy. He’s a little bit like me. He’s a little bit sarcastic at times, and we give each other a hard time. But we really respect each other. … When we come out of the room, we’re going to come out of the room together.”
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