'I really miss being around the players': Mike Zimmer talks Vikings' off-season amid Covid-19

Mike Zimmer issued some self-deprecating humor when asked Wednesday how he’s managing daily life, coaching the Minnesota Vikings virtually while having to stay within the confines of his 160-acre ranch in Kentucky.

“We’re just hoping it’s not my other eye that goes,” Zimmer joked via Zoom, referring to a torn retina he suffered in November 2017, which led to several surgeries and even forced him to miss a regular season game.

Zimmer spoke with reporters Wednesday for the first time since the Vikings acquired 15 new players in the NFL Draft, and started the team’s virtual offseason. The coaching staff is coaching, but they’re doing it from laptops via video conferencing instead of on the practice fields at TCO Performance Center.

Virtual rookie camp started the weekend after the draft. They’re making the best of a tough situation for all 32 NFL teams.

“I really miss being around the players. Talking to them on the computer, the iPad or whatever, it’s not the same because I want to get out there and I want to coach them, correct them, teach them,” Zimmer said. “Try to build the camaraderie we need with the football team.”

The greatest challenge, with as many rookies as the Vikings have, is correcting mistakes. They don’t have the ability to make corrections on technique, unless a player takes a video and they get their eyes on it.

Technique will be the greatest point of emphasis whenever the players do come together for practice before the season. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the status or organized team activities is up in the air and there’s a very real chance to first time the team is all together is training camp, which could also have to be modified.

As Zimmer put it, you can’t teach a defensive back how to cover unless they’re actually covering someone. You can’t teach offensive line technique unless the player has a defensive lineman to go against. Receivers can run routes, but they can’t master the technical aspects and timing without a quarterback throwing them the ball.

“That will be the biggest factor, because you can’t just roll the ball out and play. You can’t just say here’s your playbook, now you go out and play. It doesn’t work like that,” Zimmer said. “They know what to do, but they don’t know how to do it.”

As expected, the rookie class is behind as the Vikings go through the virtual offseason. That’s normal when you can’t get on the field in a team setting. Much like the virtual NFL Draft, the Vikings have expanded their offseason virtual program.

Zimmer holds daily video chats with his players and coaching staff, sits in on team and position meetings. The players have playbooks, and get videos of team installs that they can work with from an individual, position standpoint. It’s work they do on their own, in addition to their individual strength and conditioning work.

Zimmer is doing everything in his power to get his team ready for when it is time to hit the field. The problem there is they have no idea when that will actually be.

“The meetings have gone great. I’ve been really, really impressed with our coaches the way they’ve been teaching. I’ve been really impressed,” Zimmer said.

So how does the Zimmer work-from-home dynamic work? His son, Adam, the Vikings’ co-defensive coordinator, holds defensive meetings downstairs while Mike is upstairs. Adam occasionally comes upstairs to troubleshoot technology. The two, as most coaches would normally, bounce ideas off each other.

What does Mike Zimmer do away from football? He enjoys all 160 acres of his Kentucky ranch. His Wednesday morning involved getting on a skid steer before team meetings, using a break in between meetings to get on a tractor to get fields ready for planting. Zimmer’s daughter is also at the ranch, and they get takeout for dinner, or Adam gets out his new smoker to make some meat.

Adam Zimmer relaxes at night in the hot tub, and Mike Zimmer takes to the couch for Chicago P.D. They’ve also built a small golf course.

“I can go get on the 4-wheeler, on the tractor, go fishing or shoot guns or whatever I want to do. It’s not like I’m totally quarantined, even though I am,” Zimmer said.

They’re staying safe in quarantine now. When restrictions get lifted and football starts, there won’t be much time to waste.

“I really miss being around the players, they’re probably going to get an extra dose of me when they get back,” Zimmer said.