MINNEAPOLIS -- As elementary as the Minnesota Vikings' game plans have been for their first two preseason contests, the Vikings' wins over the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals have already seen coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards unveil a handful of different defensive looks.
Anthony Barr has played linebacker, rushed the quarterback standing up and moved into a defensive end position on passing downs. Everson Griffen has played left end and right end. Brian Robison has rushed from the left end spot and moved inside. The Vikings have dropped several different linemen into coverage, they've shown a three-safety package in their nickel defense and they've been unafraid to blitz safeties such as Harrison Smith.
There's probably more coming from a coach who sent a defensive back on a blitz 75 times while he was the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator last seasom, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That figure was the 10th highest in the league, and it was nearly double the number of times (41) the Vikings blitzed a cornerback or safety. But as effective -- and as entertaining -- as different looks can be, Zimmer says he won't overdo it to the point he runs the risk of diluting a player's focus.
"It's a little bit of, 'What can the guy do and still be effective?'" Zimmer said. "Once I feel like we have the fundamentals down and the techniques down, then you can worry about tricking somebody else or disguising. You don't always have guys like Griffen, Barr, Robison that can do a number of different things. Those three guys can stand up and drop, play outside linebacker and rush."
Zimmer said the Vikings are getting to the point at which their understanding of defensive fundamentals is strong enough that he can mix in different ideas, but he still knows there's a danger in mixing in too many different ideas. To borrow a musical metaphor, it's no good for a drummer to show off all sorts of complicated fills and complex beats if he can't keep the rest of the band in the groove.
"You don't want to hurt other guys by trying to fit some other guy in something he's not comfortable with," Zimmer said. "There's a cause and effect with everybody."
The Vikings will have plenty of chances to get creative with their personnel this season, simply because of how many versatile players they have in their front seven, but Zimmer's defense is built on sound fundamentals and good communication across the defense more than it is energized by anything exotic. If the Vikings can't handle the basics this season, we probably won't see as much variety in Zimmer's defensive looks.