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Zimmer says he wants to pay more attention to the other side of the ball

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer says he wants to become more involved with the offense this season. Bruce Kluckhohn / USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.—Vikings coach Mike Zimmer figures it's time to branch out.

Zimmer, a longtime defensive coordinator, spent most of his first three seasons as the Vikings' head coach working on that side of the ball. There have been few complaints about a unit that last season ranked third in the NFL in total defense.

The offense, though, has been a different story. With the Vikings coming off a season in which they ranked 28th in total offense, Zimmer is looking to be more involved in that area.

"I think I do a better job as a head coach by spreading myself out a little bit more," Zimmer said after spring drills concluded Thursday, June 15, with the final day of a three-day minicamp.

Zimmer, 61, said it's part of his evolution.

"There's so many times you get to be a head coach and you're a defensive coordinator and you come in trying to be able to get the defense fixed," Zimmer said. "Then you get fired in a year or two years, so you don't learn how to truly be a head coach. ... It takes awhile to learn this job, it really does.

"That's kind of my mentality, (which) is to continue to grow as a head coach, continue to be involved with the defense, but be a lot more involved in the overall game-type team offense, special teams."

Zimmer said it's "the first time I've finally felt comfortable" enough to branch out because the Vikings "have so many guys back defensively."

With that in mind, Zimmer said he hasn't ruled out turning play-calling over to defensive coordinator George Edwards. He was impressed with the job Edwards did in a Dec. 1 game against Dallas, when Zimmer was out following emergency eye surgery the night before.

"I've thought about (not calling defensive plays) more this year than I ever had," Zimmer said. "If I did that, I think I'd be able to interject a lot. ... As of right now, I'm still (planning on) calling it. But maybe I'll be like, 'Hey, George, take this preseason game and let's see how this works out.' "

Zimmer said he has taken a more hands-on approach during end-of-the-game situations during recent minicamps. He has spent more time visiting the offensive linemen meeting room and with quarterback Sam Bradford.

"It really started when he was away those couple of weeks with his eye," Bradford said. "We would text almost every day after practice and he would just give me some thoughts about what he saw from us on offense, what the defense was trying to do. ... It's great the more Coach Zim can be involved with the offense."

How much the offense improves likely will play a big role in whether the Vikings, who won the NFC North with an 11-5 record in 2015 before slipping to 8-8 last season, can return to the playoffs.

With the Vikings' rebuilt offensive line, Zimmer said he was "really impressed" in spring drills with new left tackle Riley Reiff and with how new right tackle Mike Remmers competed against star defensive end Everson Griffen.

Zimmer said rookie Dalvin Cook has "got a chance to be an exceptional back," and he's looking forward to seeing him compete in training camp with Latavius Murray. Murray missed spring practices while recovering from ankle surgery, but Zimmer expects he will be ready by training camp.

For the first time in his Vikings tenure, Zimmer is expected to have rookies report to camp before veterans, Rookies are expected to arrive in Mankato the weekend of July 22-23, and veterans report around July 26.