EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In his first year with Minnesota, coach Mike Zimmer is trying to mold the Vikings into his own.
Often new coaches will seek out their players when establishing themselves with new teams. Zimmer took the approach a step further.
Zimmer the coach couldn’t resist adding Zimmer the linebacker.
When Minnesota announced a roster move a few weeks ago, the release came across like any other. The Vikings had signed two linebackers who had tried out for the team the previous weekend. Dom DeCicco was listed first on the release followed by Mike Zimmer.
"I just wanted another chance to prove myself on the field," said Zimmer, the linebacker, of his tryout.
But did the name help?
"I sure hope not," he said. "I sure hope my play is kind of the main focal point out of any of this."
Zimmer, the coach, downplayed coincidence, of course.
"He was a good player in college and then he went to Jacksonville a year ago," coach Zimmer said. "He’s a good, smart, instinctive player. He needs an opportunity like everybody else that is here."
And coach Zimmer, 57, gave him that chance with Minnesota. Zimmer the linebacker, 23, is in his second professional season out of Illinois State — the eerie similiarities don’t end with just the name — after failing to make the Jaguars out of training camp as an undrafted free agent last year.
Zimmer was named a first-team, All-Missouri Valley conference player after tallying 127 tackles as a senior in 2012.
The Vikings are overhauling the defense in Zimmer’s first year as coach and are looking for more linebacker depth, where Zimmer the linebacker will be coached by another Zimmer. Adam Zimmer, the coach’s son, coaches the team’s linebackers.
The head coach and linebacker met for the first time during a tryout camp, but the younger Mike Zimmer had heard plenty of the coach. Coincidentally, coach Zimmer also came from Illinois State.
"It’s been funny because all through college some of the old Illinois State people have told me about him," Zimmer the linebacker said. "It’s tough because I can’t even Google myself. Other than that it’s been a real pleasure working with Coach. He’s such a great defensive mind. It’s been really nice."
When he was a player at Illinois State, coach Zimmer also played linebacker. He started out as a quarterback before making the switch to defense.
"He talked a little about how he was athletically at Illinois State," Zimmer the linebacker said. "He was actually No. 10 and I was No. 9, so it adds to a little of the craziness. He joked a little about it."
The jokes — Zimmer said teammates haven’t given him too hard of a time — will eventually fade and he will be left to try and make an NFL regular-season roster for the first time. As an undrafted free agent coming off a tryout, the odds are long for the linebacker.
He has his chance to impress coach Zimmer, for now. He’s hoping the name will eventually help out.
Asked if it would be hard for Mike Zimmer to cut Mike Zimmer, the linebacker replied: "I’d like to think so. But anything can happen."
Coach Zimmer isn’t holding any preferential treatment.
"No, it won’t be hard," coach Zimmer said when asked the same question. "Hey, they’ll cut me. I’m not worried about cutting him."