EAGAN — Mike Zimmer knows how to develop cornerbacks. During his tenure the Minnesota Vikings have starters Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris all make major strides.
But to paraphrase Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau: In order for any of the depth defensive backs want to follow the same path, they can’t just think they want it, they have to go out and (bleeping) want it. Up until now they haven’t looked like they have wanted it.
“We need to [see someone step up], whether it be a safety or corner, at those spots we need to find out who is going to be the fourth or fifth or sixth guy,” Zimmer said.
One player who had shown some potential early in camp was seventh-round pick Kris Boyd. However, he missed the opening preseason game with an injury. Boyd returned to practice on Thursday.
“The biggest thing is he has to try to use the techniques we’re using, he has missed some time, see how he reacts to bad situations, see if he’s competing, all those things,” Zimmer said after a sigh.
With last year’s rookie standout Holton Hill suspended for the first eight games and 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes still sidelined as he recovers from a torn ACL, the competition for depth spots has become an important one. Last season Rhodes and Waynes only combined to miss four games but they were dinged up at times during games, which forced Hill into action. This time around it isn’t clear who would step in.
In the preseason opener former AAF standout Duke Thomas saw the second most coverage snaps but he allowed three completions for 52 yards in his direction per PFF. Craig James, who was in camp with the Vikings last season and was brought back during the year when the secondary had injuries, has an opportunity to win a job as a backup nickel corner. In that case, Alexander would be pushed outside if Waynes or Rhodes got hurt. But James hasn’t put together a strong camp. He missed a tackle and allowed one completion his way against the Saints.
Journeyman defensive back Bene Benwikere had two missed tackles in his debut. Nate Meadors had a pick-six but only played 13 total snaps.
The safeties had a little stronger game in New Orleans. Sixth-round pick Marcus Epps made several tackles and did not allow a completion his way. Derron Smith broke up a pass and gave up just 10 yards on four throws into his coverage.
“We had way too many guys grabbing jerseys, which created a lot of pass interference penalties,” Zimmer said of the corners’ first preseason performance. “So that’s a big area that we got to get cleaned up. As far as that, there were some good and bad, really, on all of them. Sometimes they were in the right position, sometimes they weren’t. Our reroutes, when we were in cover two, weren’t as good as we need to be. And it’s hard to say – this guy, he might have been good on this play, and the other guy [not], so it’ll work itself out.”
And if it doesn’t, the Vikings have shown in the past that they will bring in players who are released by other teams. In 2017, they signed Tramaine Brock following cut-down day and George Iloka was added late in camp last year.
– Gary Kubiak noted that Irv Smith has “surprised some people” with his solid blocking ability so far in camp. Zimmer agreed, saying: “He’s been good with his position blocks, I think he’s been good with rolling his hips, keeping his feet driving.”
– Kubiak said that he liked what he’s seen so far from Brandon Zylstra, who is in the mix as a potential fourth or fifth wide receiver. He made the team last year after winning a camp battle but will have to outperform drafted players like Bisi Johnson, Dillon Mitchell and the speedier Jeff Badet.
“Brandon coming off an injury, had made up a lot of ground, came back from the injury. It takes a period of time to adjust, but what I’ve seen and I’ve seen the last few days, is that he is starting to look like himself again. This will be a big two weeks for him and he’s going to get a great opportunity with us, and he obviously can help us.”
– There was a report from Albert Breer that the Vikings are looking to trade Laquon Trewell. NFL Network Radio was in town on Thursday. GM Rick Spielman denied that they are looking to move the former first-round pick.
– Neither Kubiak or Zimmer would say whether Dalvin Cook will play on Sunday night against Seattle. Kubiak talked about what he has seen so far from Cook:
“He went through a tough injury and came back and play extremely well. Most great players that I’ve been around in this business are workers and when you come out here every day, you see why he’s a great player, really works hard. He’s a big finisher at practice. He’s a three-down player, and he’s a leader as well. So, really excited to work with him this year.”