EAGAN, Minn. -- Mike Zimmer excels at staying a step ahead of situations that could go awry.
Last week, the Minnesota Vikings coach dismissed Xavier Rhodes and Stefon Diggs before a practice after trash talk and jawing during the day’s walkthrough, which had carried over from the day before, became a distraction.
Zimmer nipped it in the bud before the incident between his star players had the chance to escalate. Zimmer and Jaguars coach Doug Marrone are approaching Minnesota and Jacksonville’s two-day joint practices in a similar manner.
The two coaching staffs met Tuesday evening upon Jacksonville’s arrival in the Twin Cities. They decided that 12 Vikings players and 12 Jaguars would meet before practice to talk about respecting each other and "doing things the right way" on the field, and trying to avoid fights that have popped up in other joint practices across the league.
"I have a group of guys that we meet with," Zimmer said. "Yesterday, one of them suggested it and I thought it was a good idea so I talked to their guys. They're going to get their guys together so ... Jacksonville Coach Marrone, myself and the rest of our team, we really don't want to end up being on TV like some of these other things. We just want to get out there and get some work done and try to get each of us better."
Several fights broke out Sunday during a joint practice between the Redskins and Jets, leading to a brawl between several of Washington’s offensive players and Jets defensive end Trumaine Johnson. Earlier Wednesday at the 49ers-Texans joint practice in Houston, DeAndre Hopkins and Jimmie Ward engaged in a brief fist fight during one-on-one drills.
Zimmer said he spoke to his team earlier in the week and reiterated that he would not put up with trash-talking or fighting, placing the focus on putting in quality work against a team that also played in its conference championship last season.
Marrone’s message to his team is similar. Dante Fowler was suspended for one week after a fight in practice with fellow defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue. Fowler and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who was suspended for a violation of team rules, did not make the trip to Minnesota.
"We don’t want to talk across the ball," Marrone said. "That’s something that we’ve talked about to our team before. We don’t want to talk across the ball, meaning, ‘Hey, listen. We’re just here to get better.’ We’re here to just compete, get better, get evaluations and go out and get work. The players, as players, I believe that it’s a whole. Obviously you have the NFLPA and the players and we’re going to come out here today and we want to make sure that we represent the players, that they represent themselves in a professional manner. And one that I hope at the end of the day can be appreciated and turned around to say, ‘Hey, these two teams went out there, they practiced hard against each other, and they did a heck of a job.’ I don’t think there’s enough of that that goes on. A lot of it gets caught on things that go wrong, which I understand why that’s reported. I hope we’ll have the fair share the other way if it goes that way, which we expect it to."
Both teams have participated in joint practices in recent years, with Jacksonville traveling to New England last year and Minnesota to Cincinnati during the 2016 preseason.
The benefit in going against an opponent in practice before facing that same team days later in a game helps not only for keeping things fresh and allowing players to scheme for different technique, but also build skills they can carry with them from the preseason into games that count.
"At some point you've been going against yourself for 12 days now or something and you know it starts getting a bit stale and you get the same routine," Zimmer said. "I think the intensity level will be up a bit because guys who are going against each other, well, we're not trying to prove who's the toughest guys. ... I'm sure they're not either ... we're going to see different techniques, different plays, how we react, plays that we haven't prepared for really, blitzes we may not be prepared for, see if our rules hold up to all those things."