Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had to stay away from his team during the start of organized team activities this spring, because of his eighth eye surgery. Zimmer missed about two weeks as his doctors, assistant coaches, players and front office made sure he knew that his recovery was more important for the team long term, even if Zimmer wanted nothing more than to get back to coaching.
And the good news last week was that Zimmer’s latest checkup showed his eye making a full recovery.
While Zimmer is viewed as a stellar coach around the league, he knows that the Vikings’ results have been mixed in his three seasons here. While he has absolutely improved his defense over the course of three seasons, going from 14th in total defense in 2014 (344.7 yards allowed per game) to 13th in 2015 (344.2 yards) to third last season (314.9 yards), he has reached the playoffs only once and his team’s great 5-0 start last season was clouded by its 3-8 finish and a missed chance at the postseason.
For the 2017 season it’s clear that the Vikings are going to need much more out of their offense, which ranked 28th in the league in 2016, if they are going to compete for a Super Bowl bid in their home stadium.
In an interview last week Zimmer gave a breakdown of his squad, looking primarily at his offense as the team gets ready to break before starting training camp in late July.
Q As you near the end of OTAs, do you like what you’ve seen from your players so far?
A This team has done a really nice job this spring. They have come out focused, paying attention, working hard. I think practice has been crisp. We obviously still have a long way to go and we have some time, but I really like this team. I like the way they work. I like the way they prepare and the way they show up. We had our physicals … and everyone was on time, everybody. The doctors all said what a great bunch of guys we have here. To me those things are very important. I think that leads to doing things right on the field.
Q Your offensive line had a very rough year in 2016. How can your new free-agent signings help that unit?
A Riley Reiff is playing left tackle, and he has done a nice job. … He’s going to go to work every day, make you compete, he’s going to make you work. I really like his mentality. Mike Remmers, who is playing the right tackle, is really doing the same thing. The thing I like about Mike is you know he gets a chance to go against Everson [Griffen] every day, so he’s going to give him a lot of different looks, and Danielle Hunter, he gives him a lot of different looks, different sets, changes things up, and he’s a battler and he’ll compete. The one thing, other than the way they’re fitting into the program, is that these two guys will really battle and compete.
Q You had some question about their pass blocking. Have they eased your mind about that?
A I think they’re better in the run game, but these two guys have really impressed me this spring in the passing game, as well. I think we’ve changed a lot of things with the protections we’re using, and it’s helped a lot. I think the centers are aware of where the pressure is coming from, the guards are doing a good job. I feel like they’re all working on the same page. I think we’re going to be fine.
Q What will happen at the offensive guard position?
A I don’t know yet. [Alex] Boone is back, and he has been doing a good job. [Joe] Berger has been playing the right guard. We’ve had Nick Easton there some, T.J. Clemmings has been in there some, and I think that’s a good spot for him. He’s kind of a space-eater, so that’s a good spot for him. Jeremiah Sirles has done a nice job.
Q You have options at center?
A We have a few. Pat Elflein is doing a really nice job for a rookie. He has good movement skills, he’s a tough guy, he’s smart. Nick Easton has done a good job. They’re really similar guys, they’re both tough guys, they’re both good athletes, they’re both on top of the calls.
Q Is it most likely that Berger will stay at guard?
A We have him at guard, and I think that’s a good spot for him. He’s doing a good job.
Q Do you think this offense is actually improving?
A I feel like they are, but the proof is in the pudding. I feel good about the running backs. [Quarterback Sam] Bradford is doing a nice job. Our offensive line has improved. [Tight end Kyle] Rudolph I think is doing a better job as a blocker. I think we have a good set of receiving guys. But at the end of the day it’s all about going out and playing the game. [Jerrick] McKinnon is doing a nice job. [Dalvin] Cook I think has a chance to be a really good back. But we have to put it together and do things right. We can’t have penalties and hurt ourselves and all of those things. On paper we’re better. Now when we go out and play on Sundays, that’s going to be the tell-all. But I like this group of guys. I really like this group of guys.
• The Gophers men’s basketball team recently found out it will play Miami (Fla.) in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, which adds to an already intense preseason schedule. “It’s probably the toughest schedule that I’ve had since I’ve been here,” coach Richard Pitino said. “We’ve got four games in the nonconference versus teams that are probably going to be Top 25 or borderline Top 25. ... As the program grew the schedule was going to grow, and certainly we did that.”
• The Twins averaged 24,246 fans per game last season, ranking 11th in the American League in attendance, and even though they have been playing much better baseball they were averaging only 22,418 fans per game this season through Friday, ranking 11th once again. The Twins front office has to hope that those numbers improve as the season goes along.
• When David Ortiz was released by the Twins he went to Boston in 2003 and hit .288 with 31 homers and 101 RBI and finished fifth in MVP voting, starting him on his path to a Hall of Fame career. Now the Twins are seeing another player have a stellar season after the club decided to move on as Aaron Hicks is hitting .306 with 10 homers, 36 RBI and 39 runs scored for the first-place Yankees.
• It’s not well-known that Mike Remmers, the tackle who signed as a free agent with the Vikings from the Panthers, was on the Vikings roster in 2013 and 2014. In ’13 he was with the team for Weeks 13, 14, 16 and 17, and in ’14 he was with the team during the offseason before joining the Rams practice squad.
• Gophers junior lefthander Lucas Gilbreath was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the seventh round of the MLB draft on Tuesday. Gilbreath is the highest-drafted Gopher since Tom Windle was selected in the second round in 2013. Windle is now pitching for the Phillies’ farm team in the Class AA Eastern League. ... Also drafted out of the Gophers program was Brian Glowicki, a righthanded pitcher taken by the Cubs in the 10th round.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday, at 2 p.m. on Friday and at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org