In learning new faces, Zimmer aims to adapt coaching to player needs

On Friday, 66 players in Minnesota Vikings jerseys were on the field at TCO Performance Center. Head coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings’ coaching staff have almost no experience with them aside from NFL Combine interviews and All-Star games like the East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl. That means Zimmer will be taking this week to figure out how his new players learn and react to coaching. Zimmer said he adapts to them, not the other way around.

“For instance, Harrison Smith, I never really have to yell at him because he’s a guy that understands what I’m saying all the time,” Zimmer said. “You can give him a look and he knows you’re mad at him. Some guys just take a little bit longer. When we first got here Xavier [Rhodes] made great strides starting to understand the scheme and things we’re trying to do. Some guys take a little bit longer. Barr was a brilliant guy so it doesn’t take him much, each guy is a little bit different.”

The Vikings’ head coach explained used the example of one player who didn’t respond well to being called out, so Zimmer avoided making a scene when he needed something changed.

“I had a safety one time that didn’t ever want to be embarrassed in front of everybody else,” Zimmer said. “You had to talk to him much differently than some other safety. It took him awhile to get things but once he got it he had it.”

While he’s always been known as a hard-nosed coach who has been overly blunt on occasion, Zimmer said it benefits him to take an individual approach to handling each player.

“You be yourself and you figure out what they respond best to,” he said. “At the end of the day you’re trying to get them to be the best player they can possibly be and whatever buttons you have to push, that’s kind of how you try to do it. That safety, when I had to correct him I’d put my arm around him and talk quiet to him and say ‘this is what you need to do’ and ‘try this, try that,’ and there’s other guys who need a kick in the rear end.”

The team will have to quickly figure out how rookies learn best considering top pick Garrett Bradbury and second-round tight end Irv Smith will likely have significant roles in Year 1. Zimmer noted that the team has routinely found tryout players who eventually became contributors like Adam Thielen, Marcus Sherels and most recently receiver Chad Beebe.