EAGAN, Minn. -- If two heads are better than one, as the adage goes, the Minnesota Vikings defense should be in great shape next season when a gang of three top assistants will work with head coach Mike Zimmer to improve a defense that underperformed by recent standards last season.
After replacing defensive coordinator George Edwards with co-coordinators — linebackers coach, and son, Adam Zimmer and defensive line coach Andre Patterson — Zimmer added two-time head coach and former Green Bay coordinator Dom Capers as a senior assistant.
Add the fact that Zimmer has never ceded defensive play-calling in his six seasons as the Vikings’ coach and you have the potential for a classic too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen scenario. When Patterson, Capers and Adam Zimmer were made available to reporters on Tuesday, none knew exactly how the brain trust would operate.
Asked what he expects his role to be, Capers said, “I think it will evolve.”
Hiring a senior consultant worked for the offense last season, when Gary Kubiak came in as a senior assistant and helped the Vikings improve their ground game from 30th in the NFL in 2018 to sixth in 2019. He is now the offensive coordinator.
Zimmer’s defenses have been typically strong, whether as a coordinator in Dallas and Cincinnati or as the Vikings’ head coach. However, while Minnesota finished sixth in scoring defense with an average of 18.9 points a game and won a playoff game, the defense took a step backward in general, especially in passing (15th in the NFL at 233.6 yards a game) and total yards (14th with 341.6).
Despite missing the postseason with an 8-7-1 record, the 2018 team finished fourth in total defense (309.7) and third in pass defense (196.2). For further context, Minnesota’s defense finished first in total yards (275.9), passing (192.4) and rushing (83.6) in 2017, when they won 14 games and advanced to the NFC championship game with virtually the same cast of characters.
“I had written down toward the end of the season that I’d kind of like to get another defensive guy in there that has a background in a lot of different things,” Zimmer said. “There’s some things that (Capers) has done that intrigue me, that I’d like to know more about.
“It’s more about just having another set of eyes in there, you see things, and also being able to say, ‘Hey, we used to run this pressure, what do you think about this?’ Or as we’re putting the defensive package together, being able to discuss different things and go from there.”
Zimmer seemed particularly interested in what Capers, 69, can do with the team’s pass rush. “I know he’s always had really good ideas in the pressure game, defensively,” he said.
The Vikings tied with NFC champion San Francisco for fifth in sacks last season with 48. The previous season, Minnesota was third with 50.
While clearly open to new ideas from elsewhere, whether Zimmer, 63, gives up play calling remains uncertain, although it is early: Coaches have been in town for only two weeks and mostly have been assessing players on video.
“We’re still in the process with all that. We’ll figure all that out as it goes,” Zimmer said. “I can always call the plays. We’ll just see how it goes in the spring. We’ve got a plan that we’ll stick to, and we’ll just see how it goes. If I feel like the best thing for the team is for me to call the defenses, I will, and if I feel like it’s not, then I won’t.”
That’s fine with Patterson, who has been coaching with Zimmer on and off since the two met at Weber State. So is sharing coordinator duties with Adam Zimmer, 36. Each will retain their previous duties as position coaches, as well.
“Adam and I have had great communication in the six years that we’ve been together,” said Patterson, 59. “When Mike called us both in and asked if we would consider doing this, Adam and I got together and talked a lot of things through, and I think it’s going to be a great thing for our players, for our defense, and for the Minnesota Vikings. I have no concerns about it whatsoever.”