Mike Zimmer has made connections with former Minnesota Vikings stars in his first three months on as Minnesota’s head coach. Zimmer is hoping one former great can shed some light on a possible future star.
Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will throw for NFL scouts this week. But in trying to learn all he can about one of the most polarizing figures in May’s NFL Draft, Zimmer talked to a similar player: Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, the former Vikings star.
Zimmer told ESPN’s NFL Insiders on Tuesday he’s spoken with former Minnesota quarterback Tarkenton about Manziel. Tarkenton has come out in support of Manziel in recent months and said he’s the quarterback in this time that most reminds him of himself.
"Nobody really played like I played," Tarkenton told USA Today earlier this month. "This kid plays like I did more than anybody else. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to myself. Russell Wilson has some of it. But Manziel has those similarities even more so than Russell.
"Manziel is a quarterback savant."
Like Manziel, Tarkenton was well known for his scrambling ability and improvisational skills. Tarkenton, 74, also left the game holding many of the league’s passing records when he retired in 1978.
Manziel has been dissected in the pre-draft process after a distinguished collegiate career in which he was the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel was an accomplished passer but is known more for his athleticism and running ability.
Manziel is generally considered one of the top three quarterbacks in the draft and Minnesota is looking for a young, long-term fixture at the position after Christian Ponder never proved to be the answer when he was drafted No. 12 overall in 2011. The Vikings own the No. 8 overall pick in May’s draft and have Ponder still on the roster but signed veteran Matt Cassel to a two-year deal earlier this month to be the starter next season.
Zimmer, who has also developed a relationship with former Minnesota and Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant, is intrigued enough about Manziel to talk to Tarkenton about the similarities in their games. Of course, Manziel also comes with questions about his maturity and mental makeup.
"It’s still going to come down to how we feel about how he’s going to be in the locker room," Zimmer told ESPN on Tuesday. "What kind of person he’s going to be, what kind of a leader, and go from there."
Tarkenton told USA Today that he would have to spend time with Manziel to truly know if he has the intangibles to handle the job and be worthy of a top pick.
"The things that went on last year with him leaving the Manning camp and other activities, I just want to understand that a little better. Everything I’ve seen of the kid, I love," Tarkenton told the USA Today, adding: "I’d have to spend some time with him. What I’ve seen him do on the field, he has all the franchise qualities. You look at your great players, they have to be leaders in the clubhouse and off the field. They don’t have to be churchgoers. But they have to have character."
But count Tarkenton in Manziel’s corner.
"Would love to see Johnny Manziel in a @Vikings uniform," Tarkenton wrote on his Twitter page (@Fran_Tarkenton) in January. "This guy is the real deal. He will be a big time player on Sundays. #NFL @jmanziel2."