- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

Mike Zimmer, in his first season as a head coach after 20 years as an assistant in the NFL, has been learning a lot about the job during a rough start with the Vikings.

The first six weeks have been marred by injuries to several key players and the loss of star running back Adrian Peterson in light of a felony child-abuse case against him.

Following a 17-3 loss to division foe Detroit, Zimmer sounded off about his frustration with the team’s discipline, on the field with penalties and lackadaisical technique, and off the field, too. He said a few players had been late to meetings and missed weightlifting sessions and threatened to fine future offenders “to the max” to get his point across.

The next day, Zimmer softened his stance, realizing the stir his comments created.

“That was probably Zimmer being Zimmer,” he said. “I was not in the best frame of mind at the time.”

When a reporter, intending to ask about the growth process in such a high-profile, high-pressure position, mentioned this is his first year as a head coach, Zimmer interjected with the smile, “It’s not the first year I’ve flown off the handle.”

The difference now is more people are listening.

“I’m sure they are,” Zimmer said.

He added: “I’m always going to be pretty honest, I think. That’s my creed. … I am trying to learn. I’m trying to do a better job every day, every game. I’m not perfect, just like the players aren’t. So I’ll just keep trying to do better and trying to get my team to be better.”

THE BUSHES: Saints fans joke with safety Rafael Bush all the time about the money he saved them on jerseys by wearing No. 25, just as Reggie Bush did when he played for New Orleans from 2006 to 2010.

The Saints safety said he would have preferred No. 36, but that wasn’t available when he was claimed off of waivers from Denver in 2012, so he took his second choice.

“I think it’s funny, man. Honestly, I just think 25 is just a sweet number. It’s just coincidence that my last name is Bush and the guy before was Bush. No relation. I’m a big fan of his, but we play two different positions. He doesn’t (want to) get hit and I hit people,” Rafael Bush said.

“I’m not trying to mimic him or be him. … I’m just trying to come here and leave my footprint on this team and help this team win games, and be an asset to this defense and not a liability, and make sure my teammates can trust me. That’s all I’m focusing on and all I’m worried about. The number is a number and hopefully I can make it look good.”

Reggie Bush was nursing an ankle injury, but did practice this week, providing the Lions with hope the running back could go against his first NFL club. Either way, Reggie Bush’s namesake was making sure he was prepared.

“He’s very dynamic, especially in the passing game,” Rafael Bush said of Reggie Bush. “We’re going to have to account for him.”

MUSIC TO THEIR EARS: Terry and Kim Pegula’s purchase of the Buffalo Bills resonated all the way to Music Row in Nashville.

That’s where executives of the Pegula-owned Black River Entertainment record label and studio broke out their Bills hats with pride. Suddenly, Black River has ties to both the NFL and NHL, because the Pegulas already own the Buffalo Sabres. And that’s big for a 4-year-old indie country label attempting to broaden its reach in a competitive business.

“Seriously, that’s a badge of honor,” Black River general manager Greg McCarn said, pointing to his Bills hat. “I do have a Sabres hat as well, and there’s a story to say back to the people that come into my office to say that we’re connected to something bigger.”

The label is starting to make noise, particularly on its publishing side. Staff writer Josh Osborne won Black River’s first Grammy by co-writing Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round,” and last month had five top-30 charting songs.

A growing stable of artists include Kellie Pickler and newcomer Kelsea Ballerini.

The Pegulas have invested heavily into Black River’s headquarters by renovating its three existing studios, including Ronnie Milsap’s former recording area. And Black River is scheduled to open a fourth studio this month.

“How lucky are we?” Celia Froehlig, vice president of publishing said, referring to the Pegulas’ commitment. “We have no excuse not to be successful.”

The artists’ lounge outside one studio includes a bubble hockey game featuring the Sabres and Nashville Predators.

Black River is headed by Gordon Kerr, who is Kim Pegula’s brother.

“Who would have thought?” Kerr said, reflecting to the times he attended Bills games at Orchard Park with his brother-in-law.

INCENTIVES: The Titans (2-4) have two games left before their bye, and two wins would get them back to .500 at 4-4. So first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt has dangled a bit of a carrot for his Titans, according to some of his players.

Linebacker Derrick Morgan said Whisenhunt may give them the whole week off before their bye on Nov. 2 as a reward if they can beat both Washington and Houston. Rookie linebacker Avery Williamson said the offer definitely had been dangled, and he loves the idea of a week off at a point in the season where he will have played 12 games counting the preseason.

“I feel like I need it, so I’ll be excited and would love to get a whole week off,” Williamson said.

Wide receiver Nate Washington is in his 10th season and isn’t buying talk the Titans can earn extra days off during their bye week with two straight wins. He said no promises have been made technically, and he sees the talk as part of Whisenhunt’s way of making sure the Titans know the importance of trying to win their next two games.

“That’s an extra incentive to get these guys to come out and work,” Washington said. “At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure he already has made up in his mind how many days he’s going to give us.”

SHARPE JORDY: Receiver Jordy Nelson is off to a quick start with the Green Bay Packers. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ top target led the league with 632 yards receiving going into Week 7. He’s third in receptions with 43, which also ties Sterling Sharpe in 1993 for the most by a Packers wideout through the first six games.

Nelson, who shies away from attention, said that while it was “great whenever you’re getting into the history book of the Packers, but I think it’s … to me it’s a random stat.”

He’ll wait until the end of the season to reflect on the numbers. There is one stat that Nelson would like to erase, though: a deflection off his hands on a pass thrown a little behind him by Rodgers. It led to the quarterback’s only interception this season, in the opener against Seattle.

“Trust me, I wish there would be more catches on there already, just based off the things I could have done better,” Nelson said. “It’s great, but that’s not our goal … those numbers.”


Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner, Dave Campbell and Teresa M. Walker, and Sports Writers John Wawrow, Brett Martel and Genaro Armas contributed to this story.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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