Spielman lauds Zimmer's evaluation skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- Among the qualities that endeared Mike Zimmer to the Cincinnati Bengals the past six years was his ability to evaluate defensive talent, take gambles on some of that talent, and reap great rewards from his occasional high-risk personnel dealings.

He's barely been in Minnesota for a month, but the former Bengals defensive coordinator already has Vikings officials raving about those same abilities.

"The one thing about Mike for sure is that he'll look at a player and he'll tell us the strengths, and he'll tell us how he's going to use him and utilize his skill set within his system," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said Thursday at the NFL combine. "It's been very refreshing, and I know I'm very excited to get this team built, to add the pieces that we need to add and look forward to the upcoming season."

Spielman was addressing national reporters for the first time since hiring Zimmer away from Cincinnati on Jan. 15. Tapped as the Vikings' new head coach, Zimmer was one of two Bengals assistants to earn head-coaching jobs this offseason, following former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who took the Washington vacancy a week prior.

Zimmer and Gruden will be addressing reporters at the combine Friday.

One of the questions Spielman fielded about Zimmer had to do with reasons why he felt the longtime assistant had been passed over for so many head-coaching jobs before this one. Some have speculated that Zimmer's occasionally gruff demeanor made him lack the charismatic star power some teams have sought in a head coach. Spielman said he wasn't sure about that, but he was glad that whatever their motivations, his fellow GMs kept passing on Zimmer.

"When he's in the office and you talk to people around him, he's the nicest person in the world -- very smart, very football-minded person," Spielman said. "The gruffness part, and him not being polished and things like that, I don't know why other teams passed on him having an opportunity to be a head coach, but I'm sure glad they did.

"It was the right time, and the right fit for us."

To better understand Zimmer's demeanor, Spielman said he reached out to the agents of some of Zimmer's former players to get an indication of what their clients really thought about playing for him. They confirmed what many current and former Bengals who have played for Zimmer have told reporters in Cincinnati in the past.

Before they arrived in Indianapolis, Spielman said Zimmer has, as expected, been a vocal presence in the team's draft meetings.

"I know he did a film session with all of our scouts and personnel people just looking at specific traits that he's looking for at each position," Spielman said. "And listening to him talk football, he has a reputation of taking guys that are good football players, some guys thought that maybe they were done, and yet getting them to play to their capabilities and beyond their capabilities."

Need proof? Just ask Chris Crocker. An 11-year veteran, Crocker spent the past two Septembers fielding phone calls from Zimmer convincing him to come out of retirement.