MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings are interviewing quarterback prospects before the NFL draft, offensive coordinator Norv Turner is using a drill he's employed for years in learning about how quickly a player can digest an NFL playbook.
Turner will diagram a handful of plays, with different permutations of personnel and protection schemes, and then turn things around, asking the quarterback prospect to pick several plays and walk through how they're supposed to work. That drill, in addition to teaching the Vikings about their draft options, has been educational for new head coach Mike Zimmer.
"We’ve been working out these quarterbacks, and we go over the offense with these players," Zimmer told reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Wednesday. "That’s actually helped. I’ll sit in there, we’ll talk about the offense, and after we get done, I’ll ask him, ‘Why are we doing it this way? This makes more sense to me.’ And we talk about it. He’s been doing it for a long time, so he’s got a lot of good points."
It's clear that as the Vikings determine when to take a quarterback in this year's draft, they're going to lean heavily on Turner's expertise. He helped develop Troy Aikman in Dallas, worked out Drew Brees when the Chargers drafted him and was San Diego's head coach during Philip Rivers' formative seasons. In an organization with a defensive-minded head coach in Zimmer and a general manager who admittedly has struggled at picking quarterbacks (Rick Spielman), Turner's opinion will carry plenty of weight this spring.
From what Zimmer said on Wednesday, though, it appears Turner will have the freedom to do his work in a cooperative structure that, if it works, will succeed because Turner's not itching to be a head coach again and Zimmer's not afraid to admit what he doesn't know. From the Vikings' approach to free agency this offseason and from what Zimmer said on Wednesday, it's been clear the coach's first job this spring has been attending to a defense that gave up more points than any in the league last season. Because of that, Zimmer said, he hasn't been in the offensive meeting room as much as he'd like.
He has Turner, though, who has had three head coaching jobs and seems to relish a coordinator's work, away from the glare of the top job, at age 61.
"I don’t think he wants to be the head coach. I think he wants to be the offensive coordinator. It’s easier," Zimmer said. "If someone wants your job, it’s a little bit harder to handle those kinds of things. But I’ve felt great with Norv."
Zimmer said when he first took the job that he didn't want to simply be a defensive coach and leave the offense to someone else, and one of his first big tasks as a head coach is his ability to jump from overseeing a defense to managing a whole team. But he said again on Wednesday how it was important for him to get an experienced coordinator like Turner, and it's clear Zimmer is using Turner as a resource as much as he's delegating to him.
"I think that was why it was so important I got Norv in here," Zimmer said. "I’ve spent a lot of time with Norv in the last month and a half. I just go sit in his office, and we talk about the quarterbacks, we talk about the draft, we talk about how we use Adrian Peterson, all those types of scenarios."
As that partnership relates to evaluating quarterbacks, it sounds like Zimmer will leave much of the technical work to Turner. The coach's sphere of influence, then, will come more in judging what kind of a leader his quarterback can be. As Zimmer mentioned, he played quarterback in high school, and he'll be able to lean on Turner. It sounds, though, like the coach has a fairly specific persona he's looking for in a quarterback.
"For me, it's the character of the guy. Will this guy lead our football team?" Zimmer said. "I want to make sure that the guy we bring in has the athletic ability but I also want him to have my persona. Because him and I are going to be tied together, whoever we draft. I don't want him to be a completely different personality from me if I can help it. I want this guy to be a leader and a guy who wants to take a bunch a guys and make a great franchise.
"I want him to be the first one in the building. These are a lot of things that I talk to them about and try to figure out how smart he is. All of these quarterbacks have played great in college and all of them could be the guy. The ones that don't make it are the ones when the lights come on and things are moving and he has to react and put the ball in the right place. How do you judge that? That's the biggest thing. How do we figure that out? If any of these teams could figure that out, that would be the right thing."