Before he became a defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther was an apprentice to current Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. The two spent six seasons together with the Cincinnati Bengals – Guenther a linebackers coach and Zimmer a defensive coordinator – mulling over countless hours of tape side by side. The two formed a strong bond and whether Zimmer was aware or not, Guenther was adopting his coaching style as his own.
Following the 2013 season, Zimmer received an opportunity to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, and he took it, opening the door for Guenther to step in as the Bengals defensive coordinator. Even with Zimmer gone, Guenther continued to run a similar defense to his mentor, but with his own added twist.
Now the Raiders defensive coordinator, Guenther will put his adopted system to the test against Zimmer, as the Silver and Black clash with the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday.
"Yeah, just the foundation of it came from him for sure," Guenther told reporters Thursday. "The coverage, the fronts, all the stuff we do. I owe him a lot of gratitude from working with him. I learned a lot from him, but I'm going to try and kick his ass on Sunday."
Earlier in the week, Zimmer hopped on a conference call to field questions from reporters, and was asked about the similarities between his defense and Guenther's.
"It's very similar," Zimmer said. "I think Paul will always have his spin on things, that's kind of how he's always been, but I think they'll be much, much improved. They got much better talent all the way across the board. I think [Vontaze] Burfict really helps them get guys lined up and he understands their system so well, but they've got good players up front. They're much, much improved in the backend in my opinion as well, so yeah I think they are going to continue to get better."
Entering the 2019 offseason, Guenther, Coach Gruden, and General Manager Mike Mayock knew they needed to address the issues on defense. The Raiders gave up a whopping 140.6 rushing yards per game in 2018, but through two games the defense is relenting only 63 yards per game, and to Zimmer's point, I believe Burfict is a main reason why.
No one knows Guenther's system better than the former Arizona State Sun Devil, and for Guenther it was imperative he brought over his guy from the Bengals this offseason. Their bond is something special and Zimmer went on record to say he thinks very highly of him.
"Yeah, I mean Marvin [Lewis] had the biggest impact on him I think because he brought him in there, but I mean Vontaze had a good relationship with really everybody," the Vikings head coach said. "Vontaze is a good kid, plays hard. I don't think there is any animosity with Vontaze with anybody really."
Guenther and Burfict will have their hands full Sunday, however, as they'll try to contain Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Stefon Diggs, each capable of making big-time plays. As the unit prepares for the matchup, Guenther emphasized to them all week as the newer players get more acquainted with one another it'll be easier to communicate. They'll need to be in sync this Sunday if they want to succeed against a good coach and a good offense.
"Well, obviously when things come up on Sunday's you can recall different situations," Guenther explained. "We're in that beginning stage right now with some of the newer guys we had. That was one of the things I said to them on Monday after the game was, 'Hey, the longer we work together, the more we can recall things,' and it's easier to install different concepts when the guys already have the system down.
"[Zimmer] is a good coach. I learned a lot from him, worked together a long time in Cincinnati. We had a really good time. He's a good friend."
They might be friends, but there's no time for friends come kickoff. The Raiders will take the field this Sunday at 10:00 a.m. PDT.