Zimmer likes early look of improving secondary

The Vikings drafted safety Antone Exum in the sixth round to help shore up their secondary.

Ann Heisenfelt/AP

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Maybe reporters were catching Mike Zimmer following a good day of practice, or maybe the instruction that has been paramount since Zimmer took over as the Minnesota Vikings’ coach is taking a firm hold.

The secondary that has been dissected over the years by Minnesota’s opponents is pleasing the new coach after another round of organized team activities.

Upgrading the back end of the defense has been an offseason point of emphasis for Zimmer and Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. The changes are becoming evident.

"I’ve got a lot of main focuses, but actually I think we’ve improved quite a bit back there," Zimmer said after practice on Thursday. "We’re doing a much better job in the coverage than early on in the first minicamp. We’re understanding coverages better. We’re playing a lot tighter.

"We’ve still got a ways to go, and you can’t play any bump and run in these OTAs. So that will be our next big emphasis in the back end when we finally get to training camp is working on bump and run, because we’ve got to be good at that."


The effort to change the secondary and give Zimmer the types of athletes he’s looking for was evident.

Minnesota let perennial underachiever Chris Cook leave as a free agent. The Vikings signed Captain Munnerlyn as a priority in free agency and added cornerback Derek Cox and safety Kurt Coleman in less-heralded deals.

In the draft, Minnesota continued the overhaul with safety Antone Exum and cornerbacks Kendall James and Jabari Price. This week, the Vikings claimed cornerback Julian Posey off waivers from the Cleveland Browns in their continual search for help.

Munnerlyn had been a part of good defenses in Carolina, only to be considered the "weakest link" as he called it, as part of the Panthers’ secondary. Coming to Minnesota, which allowed the second-most passing yards in the NFL last season and the most passing touchdowns, Munnerlyn joined a true weak link.

"Coming in here, I know I got to step up big time," Munnerlyn said. "I think they finished 32nd or something in pass, gave up a lot of yards, but I know we’re going to change that around tremendously. You’ve got Harrison Smith, who’s a great safety. You’ve got other guys out here competing. I’m just really excited to see us get on the field together and play a football game."

Munnerlyn was a big part of the Vikings’ makeover in settling down a position group has struggled but also been in flux for injury reasons.

"The thing Captain’s done, he’s a smart guy, he’s got some knowledge about things, but he’s been very good in the slot," Zimmer said. "He understands route concepts. He communicates well, so that part has been good to have him in there. Because if I can continue to get him to do what I want him to do, then he is a calming factor. Sometimes he wants to do his own thing, so I have to talk to him a little bit."

Munnerlyn is using OTAs to prove himself to his teammates, as well as his coaches as he tries to assume a leadership role with his new team.

"Oh yeah, it’s very tough, because I’ve got to gain these guys’ trust," Munnerlyn said. "That’s the key, to gain these guys’ trust. So, I’m just going out here each and every day and trying to lead by example and make plays on the football, and trying to just show them the ropes."

Second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes is another hope for Minnesota taking a step in the secondary. Munnerlyn has been eager to work with Rhodes, and coaches have constantly been in the ear of Rhodes, the 2013 first-round pick.

Vikings 2014 Draft Capsules

"It’s really not just Xavier, it’s all of the defensive backs," Zimmer said. "We’re stressing fundamentals with how we teach. Xavier has a lot of ability. I’m talking to him about being the same guy every single day, on every play. Not one play where he’s good and one play where he’s not as good. But he has a lot of ability. I’m excited."

Still working their way back: In the second week of OTAs, Minnesota still has a few players not participating due to injuries.

Left tackle Matt Kalil, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and safety Andrew Sendejo had helmets but were held out of team drills. Kalil and Joseph participated in position group workouts. Cornerback Josh Robinson, safety Jamarca Sanford, defensive tackle Chase Baker and offensive tackle Pierce Burton were present, but held out of practice.

Everson Griffen was held out of practice but did some running on the side.

"He just strained his back a little bit," Zimmer said of Griffen. "It’s killing him not to be out here. We actually today probably could have went, we’re just being a little more precautionary."

Running back Adrian Peterson, receiver Greg Jennings, running back Joe Banyard, linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Scott Crichton and guard David Yankey were not at practice Thursday.

Follow Brian Hall on Twitter