MINNEAPOLIS — In relatively short order, the Minnesota Vikings have been able to use their rookie class of 2015 in some major roles. Four of their top five picks started Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, and two of those players — wide receiver Stefon Diggs and linebacker Eric Kendricks — are up for NFL Rookie of the Week honors for their performances.
But why have the Vikings been so good at getting their rookies up to speed quickly? Receiver Mike Wallace has a theory.
“We have the most meetings ever,” Wallace said. “We’re always in meetings, we’re always on the field. If you’re in that many meetings, you’ve got to know what’s going on.”
It’s true coach Mike Zimmer wanted to revamp the way the Vikings meet when he became the head coach last year. Constrained by the Vikings’ cramped practice facility — 34 years old and due to be replaced in the next several years — Zimmer asked the team’s operations staff to build a makeshift meeting room, with a state-of-the-art projection system and theater seating, so he can meet each player’s eye level. That room, with removable risers and pipe-and-drape curtains in the back, impedes on the corner of the Vikings’ indoor practice field, and also doubles as a media auditorium for press conferences. But it’s worked for the Vikings.
One of Zimmer’s beliefs as a coach is making sure players understand their effect on the whole team; the defensive tackle should know how his job impacts the cornerback on a given play, the wide receiver should know how his route might change because of a blocking scheme, etc. To that end, Zimmer often starts his meetings with a trivia question, to test his players’ knowledge of a game situation.
“It’s so the whole team can know the rules, just different things,” Wallace said. “I think it has a lot to do with coaching, as well. He’s setting us up, and putting us in position. I think he’s doing a really good job.”
Not that the meetings always go as planned.
“We keep going through situations in the team meetings and I’ll ask them questions,” Zimmer said early in training camp. “I’ll say, ‘We’re in a two-minute drill, we’re down by two, we need a field goal to win or tie.’ So I’ll ask a guy, ‘What yard line do you need to get to?’ I asked one of the players, not on special teams, but I like to ask different guys different questions because I need to find out what they know and what they don’t know. One guy said the 50-yard line. And I said, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s a 68-yard field goal. That’d be an NFL record.’
“Getting them to understand these situations, where we’re trying to get to. I asked a guy yesterday, we’ve got one play that we only run on one certain down, right? I asked him, and he gave me the wrong down. I asked him again today in the meeting, just to make sure that he knows that they all need to be paying attention and we all have to be on the same page and we all have to be accountable. We want our fans to be proud of how intelligent we play and how hard we play. I want my football team to share my personality and learn about the game of football.”