Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer still looks back fondly on his time in Cincinnati as defensive coordinator for the Bengals, but those feelings have been pushed aside this week.
The Bengals host the Vikings in the season opener Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, marking Zimmer’s first regular-season game back in Cincinnati since he took the Minnesota job in 2014.
Zimmer served as the Bengals defensive coordinator from 2008 to 2013, leading top 10 defenses in four his six seasons, all of which also helped power the team to playoff appearances.
“I was with Dallas for 13 years and then went to Atlanta for the one year and it was kind of a really bad time with what happened there in Atlanta (with a 4-12 finish),” Zimmer said in a conference call with local media. “So being able to come to Cincinnati and try to develop a good defensive team, that kind of I guess gave me more confidence in the things I could do with guys. I met some great people. Obviously, I knew Marvin (Lewis) before, but I met some great people there, and the (Brown family) always treated me really, really well. It was great. I still have a lot of fond memories about being there, about the years that we had when I was there those six years. It was really a good time.”
Not too many players or staff members from Zimmer’s time in Cincinnati are left with the Bengals, as Zac Taylor has turned over the roster the past two years especially and brought in his own coaches for the most part.
Zimmer said he still keeps in touch with former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, but not really anyone still in the organization – mostly because he’s not much of a sociable guy, as he put it. He does still own a ranch in Walton, Kentucky, and recently bought another hundred acres to add habitat for wildlife.
Although he doesn’t get there often in-season, Zimmer did spent last weekend at the ranch while NFL teams took off because of the break between preseason finales and the openers. He goes there during bye weeks and spends most of the summer there as well.
This weekend is just a business trip, though, so Zimmer won’t be getting out to his property. He did tell new Bengals right tackle Riley Reiff, who was previously with Minnesota, that he could have the house and gate codes to go hunting there if he wanted. Reiff is one of two former Vikings players who are expected to make an impact for the Bengals this season, as he replaced Bobby Hart.
“Riley is one of my favorite guys of all time,” Zimmer said. “Tough, tough competitive guy. Doesn’t say very much, but when he does he means it. I made him a captain when he was here just because of his attitude. He’s going to bring that nasty attitude to the rest of the offensive line and to the offense, really. Great guy. Just loves football. Extremely competitive.”
Zimmer had good things to say about former Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes as well, noting how much the team missed him last year. Waynes is out this week because of a hamstring injury but the hope is he can be back next week or Week 3.
The Vikings’ defense ranked 27th in yards and 29th in points allowed last year.
“We lost a lot of good players in the offseason (after the 2019 season),” Zimmer said. “And then we had some guys opt-out and we had some injuries. (Anthony) Barr missed 15 games and (defensive end Danielle) Hunter missed 16 games. So, we were just young and inexperienced. And I probably misjudged things a little bit as far as thinking that I could do better with those guys than what I could. So, maybe some of it was we got schemed a little bit and then we didn’t have the guys that I was used to playing with. So, it was probably a lot of my fault.”
The Bengals are expecting a top 5-type of defense from Zimmer’s team this year. Taylor called him “one of the best coaches in the league” and recalled how much trouble Miami had against his Bengals defenses when Taylor was on the Dolphins staff during that time.
Zimmer said he has a lot of respect for Taylor and the way he and his staff are attacking teams with different concepts in the running and passing games. He expects the Bengals offense will provide a good test for his defense.
“I have been extremely impressed with watching (Joe) Burrow,” Zimmer said. “This kid is competitive. He’s a heck of a scrambler. He’s got a big-time arm, he’s not afraid to throw the ball into tight windows. He seems to see things and get the ball off really quick. It looks like, I remember, Carson the way he could spin the ball. This guy probably will be better than him. He’s a better scrambler, but I’ve been so impressed with the toughness. He will take a shot, scramble and dive or the first down. Run a quarterback draw. All the things he does. I think y’all hit big on that one.
“I think they’ve got a great mix with Mixon. The offensive line has got some physicality to them with the running game and the screens, they do a great job with screens. Obviously, they are going to get into some no-back formations and try to spread us out and try to let him pick when they want to go. They are basically a three-wide team that will get into two tights every once in a while. … I have been really impressed with the concepts and things they are doing offensively.”
Vikings at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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