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Bleacher Report – Vikings

For secondary depth, Vikings putting trust in youth

By Matthew Coller

In a salary-capped league, you can either pay a lot of average players average money or you can pay a few good players a lot of money.

For the Minnesota Vikings, five players make up $40.4 million of the total $67 million spent on defense – and $6.75 million of that belongs to Sharrif Floyd, who is currently injured.

So while the Vikings make sure players like Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph get their due, Minnesota is forced to look to young talent (on rookie contracts) to fill out depth spots.

On the defensive line, the Vikings have seen players like Tashawn Bower and Jaleel Johnson emerge during camp, giving them confidence in the group behind the starters. Behind linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, the Vikings have some experience with veteran Emmanuel Lamur and two more young players in Edmond Robinson and 2016 fourth-round pick Ben Gedeon.

Where Minnesota’s defense will have to rely most on youth for depth is in the secondary, where Mike Zimmer’s club will look to a second-year nickel corner with 68 snaps under his belt and only a handful of combined plays between the rest of the cornerbacks and safeties.

On Thursday, Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards talked at length about three of the Vikings’ key young defensive backs.

Mackensie Alexander

Zimmer has commented multiple times this offseason on the the 2016 second-round pick’s improvement in attitude from Year 1.

“I think he figured out that he wasn’t going to play the way he was doing things,” Zimmer said. “Every day was a different day. One day up, one day down. It’s about doing things right and being consistent, learning how to be a pro.”

“He came back with a different mindset and a different attitude.”

Even with an improved disposition, Alexander is facing a difficult task moving from an outside corner in college to a slot corner at the highest level.

“Everything happens quick in there,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes you’re facing big, physical guys, sometimes quick guys, it’s a lot of change-of-possession, you still have to play the run, you have to blitz. A lot of it is understanding the route combinations and formations especially in the zone…it’s about understanding where your help is…back in the old days, Darren Woodson, who was my safety, played nickel. A lot of it was because he could recognize patterns and combinations so quickly.”

Last season, Alexander struggled when he did see the field. He was targeted 13 times and gave up 9.8 Yards Per Attempt and one touchdown, according to Football Outsiders data and was flagged three times for 28 penalty yards.

Jayron Kearse

When Andrew Sendejo suffered an injury against the Philadelphia Eagles last season, Kearse got his first taste of NFL action. It didn’t go smoothly. In his first game as a starter, Kearse was quickly benched in favor of Anthony Harris after taking a poor angle on a 69-yard run by Chicago running back Jordan Howard.

Kearse had the same issue on a big run by the Seahawks.

“When he’s playing close to the line of scrimmage he’s been forceful, he’s been making quick decisions when he’s in the middle of the field or in the backfield, a little bit slow to pull the trigger sometimes, that’s what he’s working on,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings selected Kearse in the seventh round of the 2016 draft because they liked his height (6-foot-4) and potential for growth. Coming out of college, he was criticized for not making enough splash plays at Clemson and lacking a sense of urgency. Edwards said the Vikings have worked in camp to improve how fast the young safety processes the game.

“Just trying to get him in those situations a lot more in order to help him make better decisions and quicker decisions as far as angles and techniques we use in the middle of the field,” Edwards said. “Whether you’re playing a quarters, whether you’re playing a half, whether you’re playing single-high in the middle of the field. Just getting him comfortable and making quicker decisions.”

If Harrison Smith or Sendejo were to get hurt, Kearse would likely be the next man up. However, if he were to struggle again, they would turn to either Anthony Harris, Antone Exum or Newman.

Antone Exum

The former seventh-round selection was on IR last season, but did play 140 snaps in 2015 filling in at safety. During training camp, Exum has played both safety and second-team nickel corner. Zimmer has liked how Exum has adjusted.

“He was a corner at Virginia Tech and he’s got size and toughness and speed,” Zimmer said. “I just thought, like I’ve done with some of these other guys, let’s just look at them and see what it looks like. The impressive thing is how fast he’s picked up the responsibilities of the nickel.”

Bottom line

The Vikings elected not to sign an extra veteran defensive back this offseason, presumably because they trusted Alexander, Kearse and Exum. During camp, Zimmer has shown belief in each of them. Whether that trust will pay off is TBD.

The post For secondary depth, Vikings putting trust in youth appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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