Zimmer focuses on improving Vikings' pass defense

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- New Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is defensive-minded with an expertise in teaching defensive backs.

The Vikings are coming off a season in which they ranked last in the league in touchdown passes allowed (37), first-down passes allowed per game (15.4), completions allowed per game (26.2) and blown leads in the final minute of regulation (five).

So, naturally, Zimmer has been a fixture in the secondary during the team's organized team activities (OTAs) this offseason.

"I think we have improved quite a bit back there," he said. "We're doing a much better job in the coverage than early on in the first minicamp (in late April). We're understanding coverages better. We are playing a lot tighter.

"We still have got a ways to go. You can't play any bump and run in these OTAs, so that will be our next big emphasis in the back end when we finally get to training camp, working on bump and run, because we need to be good at that."

Zimmer, who spent the previous 12 seasons as defensive coordinator in Dallas, Atlanta and Cincinnati, is in the process of drastically changing the defensive system the Vikings have played since 2006. Instead of the more reactive Cover 2-based scheme, the Vikings will be playing more press coverage with more blitz packages and possibly more multiple fronts.

The Bengals relied on a lot of press coverage last season under Zimmer. They responded by allowing just 5.9 yards per catch, which ranked No. 2 behind only the champion Seattle Seahawks. Cincinnati also gave up only 22 passing touchdowns.

A key figure in Zimmer's plans for the secondary is second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes, a first-round pick in 2013, is a big corner with definite press-coverage ability. During Wednesday's OTA session, his skills clearly were on display when he intercepted starting quarterback Matt Cassel on a quick hitch and returned it for a touchdown during the team scrimmage portion of practice.

"Xavier has a lot of ability," Zimmer said. "I mean, he's a very, very talented guy and so I'm talking to him about being the same guy every single day and every play -- not one play is good and one play is not as good. To be more focused, I guess, is really the thing. He has a lot of ability. I'm excited to work with him."

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