May 13 2016 05:00 AM | Joe Oberle in Minnesota Vikings
http://vikingsjournal.com/_/minnesota-vikings-news/minnesota-vikings/zimmer-film-session-teaching-old-dogs-new-tricks-r1094

For the past three years while he has been the Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer has held an offseason film session with the local media—and his latest installment took place on Wednesday afternoon. It marked my first time being invited to the session, and I am not afraid to say that it was a bit of education going through film with Coach Zimmer.


Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

I am not big time film rat when it comes to writing articles for Vikings Journal (there are others who breakdown film here), but sessions such as these could go a long way toward making me one. Zimmer basically showed a number of different plays from last season, and while that part of the media accessibility was off the record for all reporters, I did come away with a few impressions that confirmed previous notions—one, we don’t all see everything the coaches see when it comes to breaking down film, and secondly, it behooves all of Zimmer’s players that they become film rats.

I am not sure of the stated purpose of these film sessions, other than they are an attempt to explain to the media what the coaches look for when they evaluate player performances, scout other teams or teach their own players. Coaching up the media, as it were.

Perhaps in this day and age of sports analytics, ProFootballFocus.com-type rankings and countless numbers of beat writers and bloggers breaking down game film, the organization prefers that the people covering the team offer more informed analysis—and maybe even ask more informed questions. Maybe the media can gain some insight on how the team evaluates players and why they make the personnel decisions they do. That wasn’t a stated goal; I am merely speculating.

Zimmer is certainly not the first coach to do it (apparently former Vikings coach Brad Childress did something similar, as well). And Zimmer also isn’t giving away any state secrets that would put his team at a competitive disadvantage. But the opportunity to hear terminology the team uses and, for just a short time, to view the team from their perspective, was truly beneficial.

Zimmer knows his defense well, and as he is firing through plays on the screen, that point is certainly brought home. Zimmer goes through things quickly, demonstrating his prowess as an instructor as well as a coach, and the uninitiated (such as myself) have to work to keep up. He keeps things lively and says he asks his players questions throughout their film session to make sure they are engaged.

“They are pretty engaged,” Zimmer acknowledges during the post-session Q&A.

Zimmer expects his players to know the defense also, which comes across given the level of detail that he hones in on when diagnosing a play. Some of the things he points out—a safety lining up a couple yards too deep, a cornerback turning to run with a wideout a moment too soon, an interior lineman too far to one side of a blocker, a linebacker not opening his hips quite enough or a defensive end with his inside arm down—appear minor at first glance but can make the difference in the success of certain plays.

Perhaps the biggest revelation—and it isn’t a secret, but it really becomes apparent—is that Zimmer is all about team defense, and his defense is set up for everyone to do a job that so the unit can succeed. It became easy to see that more than one player has to do his job before a play can succeed, and you begin to understand why Zimmer can get frustrated when players are freelancing or going off the team script.

The intricacies of the desired techniques employed by the players come into full-screen view when a coach is leading the film session, and you realize how important it is to the coaches to see what they have been teaching come through in the game film. You understand that simply speed and power aren’t always enough to make a play work, or the lack of them to cause one to break down.

When at first glance, football can look as if it can be broken down to winning one-on-one matchups (and at times it can), it actually, over the length of a game, is more about which team executed their game plan better. Football, particularly on defense, is a team game that requires voracious film study to determine and recognize an opponent’s tendencies, plenty of practice time to ingrain split second reactions and responses to reads and then finally the speed, power and skill to make the plays. It is obvious that good athletes are necessary to play the game, but ultimately athletic ability will only take a player so far—the rest has to be done in the film room.

“I’ve seen tons of them over [the years], especially longer athletic guys [such as Danielle Hunter],” Zimmer said in regards to players who have to change their style of play when they transition from college to the pros. “The good thing is we feel like we can find guys like that. Rick [Spielman] and myself are always looking for athletes, guys that we feel we can mold to what we’re trying to do. We just try to coach them into trying to be better and using the gifts that they have been given.”

Zimmer’s defense is certainly complex (my head was spinning at times), and it demonstrates why school is not out once a rookie leaves college. The players who are going to succeed consistently and for a long time at this level are those who hit the film room with vigor. The base defense is installed, but there are changes each week (and even at halftime), so if you don’t make film study a part of your work routine, you are eventually going to get left behind, it would seem.

“It is really important that you take guys and develop them,” Zimmer said. “One thing every player wants to do is get better. There is no player that doesn’t want to get better. And whether he is 37 years old like [Terrance] Newman is or he is a young guy, they all want to get better. So you constantly try to figure out ways to help them be a better player.”

It occurs to me that one way that happens is in the film room. I came away from the Zimmer film session with a new perspective—and I hope it makes me a more informed media member covering the team.