- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Six days from now, the Minnesota Vikings will line up for their first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, with a new coach, major scheme changes on both sides of the ball and possibly as many as seven new starters on defense. To call it anything more significant than a checkup on the Vikings' progress would be silly, and coach Mike Zimmer doesn't seem to be treating it as anything else.
"I told our players a little bit last night, 'We've got a game in six days now, but to me, this is about us, and us getting better,'" Zimmer said. "I don't want to go out and trick the Raiders. I want to go out and play solid, fundamental football. I'm sure we could run some blitzes they're not ready for, but that's really not what I want to do. I want to find out if we can cover, if we can line up and play the run, if we can block people in the running game and if we can get open on offense and throw the ball in the right places."
To this point in training camp, the Vikings have made progress in Zimmer's eyes, though it's been uneven in some areas. The Vikings' run-blocking has been solid, he said, but the team's pass protection needs work. The defense needs to be more precise in its alignments, but its blitz package has exceeded Zimmer's expectations. It would be presumptuous to think the Vikings would be close to a finished product at this point, though, and four preseason games will provide them opportunities to get closer to that point.
Zimmer wouldn't say how much he will play his starters on Aug. 8 at TCF Bank Stadium, but hinted the Vikings' top units would get more than a series. "It's not going to be, one-two-three and out," he said. And though his assistant coaches have started some preparation work for the Raiders, Zimmer will use his time to drill his own set of new responsibilities.
Friday's game will be his first at the helm of a NFL team, and Zimmer started working on Saturday through a set of game situations that general manager Rick Spielman put together for him to study. "Rick put together a tape; we sit down and talk about game-like situations, challenges, when to use timeouts, go for field goals, things like that," Zimmer said. "We've got four more days to go. We hit probably 15 scenarios today. We sit down for an hour each day." Then, he joked, "Rick's never wrong."
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will handle the offensive play-calling, and Zimmer will use the preseason to determine whether he will call defensive plays or delegate the task to defensive coordinator George Edwards. Zimmer, of course, will have veto power on offensive play calls, and he's also working to make sure he can give Turner sound feedback there.
"Honestly, I trust Norv's judgment," Zimmer said. "I'll come in and talk to him about, 'How are we going to get this guy blocked this week? What do you think the best runs are?' We talked about a couple things last night. But the biggest input for me will be, 'Alright, it's this situation, Norv; we need to run the ball here. We've been running it down their throats. Let's not throw it three times. Let's get another run in there, give the ball to Adrian [Peterson] or whatever it is. Or things that I see on tape; they're having a hard time [with] no-backfield formations, or things like that."
5hEric D. Williams