Spielman says ‘no gray area’ on what personnel Zimmer needs

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said of Minnesota's direction going into the offseason: "I think this is the clearest we've ever been on a direction with the coaches and the scouts all speaking the same language and identifying those same traits."

Brace Hemmelgarn/Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A common occurrence as the Minnesota Vikings practiced at their Winter Park facilities was general manager Rick Spielman watching with a keen eye and listening to coach Mike Zimmer. In the summer months, Spielman would be on the field just a few yards away. When the Vikings moved indoors, Spielman had his own perch to watch from above in the team’s field house.

Right along with the players, Spielman was learning from the first-year head coach. 

"You can watch tape of some examples of it, but once you get into training camp and you watch them actually coach and what they’re trying to teach, and we go through and we sit through the season and we sit here on Mondays and go through game evaluations and listen to them talk about personnel, just heading into the second year now there’s such a clearer understanding about the direction we need to go, as far as what specifically each position trait is required to be effective in this scheme," Spielman said last week.

Spielman placed his trust in Zimmer to rebuild the Vikings after missing the playoffs in three of four seasons under previous coaches Leslie Frazier and Brad Childress. Zimmer had plenty of success in guiding defenses with a trusted system. In many ways, the offense took a similar approach when Zimmer hired Norv Turner to be the offensive coordinator.

The two veteran coaches shaped Minnesota’s offense and defense, while Spielman and his staff set out to acquire the type of players Zimmer and Turner desired. Heading into the offseason, Spielman and the scouts know what they are looking for.

"I think this is the clearest we’ve ever been on a direction with the coaches and the scouts all speaking the same language and identifying those same traits," Spielman said. "With coach Zim, there’s usually not a lot of gray area with him."

No gray area is a benefit to Spielman. Zimmer knows what he wants and he’s honest about what he has.

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The Vikings finished three days of player evaluations the week before Spielman met with the media for his season-ending interview. Spielman outlined the talks, which occur with scouts down one side of a long table in a conference room and the coaches along the other side discussing the players on the current roster.

"The way our guys were playing at the end of the season, there was a night-and-day difference just from the technique and all the nuances that these coaches are teaching," Spielman said. "I think that foundation and that building block that’s in place after one year should carry over into the next year as well. And now you have guys that have been through the system that understand what the coaches are teaching and what the expectations are, so when we bring in our new players for next year to integrate with the current guys, there’s not going to be 90 guys learning something new all at once."

The evaluations aren’t always easy for Spielman, who’s been responsible for drafting most of the roster, but he’s taking his cues from Zimmer on techniques, while also making the tough business decisions.

Some of Minnesota’s most difficult decisions in the offseason might be with core players, such as Adrian Peterson and Chad Greenway.

"It’s extremely tough because you’re trying to eliminate the human side of everything," Spielman said. "And that’s the hardest part of this job, is to take all that human element out of it and just look at it from a pure business perspective. I think if you’re able to do that, as hard as that is, that helps you make the best decisions you can."

Player turnover is inevitable, but significant change could be likely on a team continuing its alterations along the offense and defense. Free agency meetings for the team will begin in early February.

"I do expect that there will be turnover," Zimmer said at his season-ending press conference. "I know that myself, Rick, scouts, the couches are committed to turning every rock possible to keep working on an acquisition of talent. Whether it’s in the Canadian Football League, or college, free agency, we’re going to work diligently on trying to improve this football team the very best we can. And I’m not just talking about personnel. I’m talking about schemes; I’m talking about everything that we can do."

Shortly after becoming the coach, Zimmer showed tutorials to the personnel and scouting staff on what types of players he’s looking for to fit his system. Zimmer prepared videos of his defenses in Cincinnati to show Spielman and his staff just what he needed to transform the defense with the Vikings.

Even Zimmer has a different outlook now.

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"I do think I have a much better idea of the players now than obviously I did a year ago," Zimmer said. "And so I think seeing them in the game-type situations, seeing them in practice, in the meetings helped to figure out what they can do better, what they don’t do quite as well, and things we can change and try to make us more successful in the long run.

Spielman finally saw the schemes and techniques come to shape in practices and games with the Vikings’ personnel. He believes a foundation has been laid by previous drafts and the work of the personnel staff and Zimmer has the team pointed in the right direction.

Set to start shopping again, Spielman knows what he needs to find.

"We try to identify eight specific needs that we want to get better at," Spielman said. "I can tell you that some of them are not too hard to figure out. I won’t get into those specifics, because the big part of the piece I think on how you build this roster is just being very honest about what your current roster is and very honest about where your needs are going to be."

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