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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Mackensie Alexander’s failure to grab nickel role only a surprise to Vikings’ brass

By Judd Zulgad

This isn’t a second guess of the Minnesota Vikings and that’s what so maddening about it.

From the day it became clear that Mackensie Alexander was going to be asked to play inside as the nickel corner in the Vikings’ defense, there were many who warned it was a bad idea.

A very bad idea.

That job had been held by veteran Captain Munnerlyn, but the Vikings elected to let him walk away as a free agent last March. We are talking about a guy who played 637 snaps for Minnesota last season, meaning he was in for 61.6 percent of the defensive plays. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has estimated in the past that his team will play nickel 70 percent of the time.

This means the Vikings weren’t simply replacing a third cornerback, they were replacing a starter who was very good at playing a position that is part corner, part linebacker and takes a special talent.

This is where thinking Alexander could step right in to play the position was incredibly flawed. The Vikings’ defense is expected to win them games and yet they planned on handing a key spot in a pass-happy league to a second-year player who struggled in limited action last season and who was knocked for not listening to Zimmer and his teammates?

This made zero sense and nearly everywhere general manager Rick Spielman turned it was suggested that he look to the free-agent market for a veteran corner to plug into the nickel.

Nickell Robey-Coleman, who eventually signed with the Rams, was one name mentioned as a logical candidate. Robey-Coleman had been ranked 30th by Pro Football Focus in 2016.

But the Vikings remained convinced that Alexander, a second-round pick in 2016, could do the job. Zimmer even talked about the fact that Alexander was doing a better job taking direction. That, of course, was an indictment considering if he didn’t take direction as a rookie than something was wrong.

Part of the issue is that Zimmer is known for his ability to tutor cornerbacks. He spent his first training camp as Vikings coach in 2014 basically attached to Xavier Rhodes and that helped turn Rhodes into a Pro Bowl cornerback.

But Rhodes had two things going for him: 1) He was a willing student who wanted to learn and continues to show a desire to do so; 2) He wasn’t being asked to play inside and thus was fine-tuning his work at a position he knew well.

Although Zimmer wasn’t in Minnesota yet, Spielman knows exactly what can happen when you hold your breath and hope that any corner can succeed playing in the nickel.

The Vikings jettisoned Antoine Winfield before the 2013 season and Spielman and former coach Leslie Frazier hoped that Josh Robinson could take over at a spot where Winfield was masterful. Robinson never had a chance and his play was one reason Frazier was fired after the Vikings went 5-10-1 that year.

As the Seattle Seahawks took apart Alexander in the second preseason game on Aug. 18, the flashbacks to Robinson’s woes were plentiful. Zimmer’s concern, or panic, about Alexander became clear when he played him for the entire first half in the Vikings’ fourth preseason game on Thursday night against Miami.

This was done as all the other defensive starters watched from the sideline. If you convinced yourself the Vikings just wanted to get Alexander more work than good for you. But playing an expected starter that much in the fourth exhibition means things aren’t going close to plan.

Alexander did make a good play against the Dolphins when he broke up a potential touchdown throw, but he then was penalized for taunting. That gave Miami a first down, leading to a Dolphins score.

The Vikings finally came to their senses and appeared to hit the eject button on the Alexander experiment on Friday when they reportedly obtained veteran corner Tramaine Brock from Seattle. Brock primarily has played the outside corner, but it’s expected the Vikings are hoping he can make a quick adjustment to playing inside.

Yes, this seems flawed but not nearly as flawed as giving the job to Alexander. There’s also a chance that veteran Terence Newman can help in the nickel.

That might have to happen if Brock ends up being suspended by the NFL. Brock recently had domestic violence charges dropped against him because of insufficient evidence, but as Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has learned the legal system not pursuing charges doesn’t mean you’re free and clear when it comes to NFL discipline.

Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, said in an e-mail on Saturday that “the matter remains under review,” when it comes to Brock’s situation.

As for Alexander’s situation, you have to wonder what’s next for him? He saw action in only 68 plays last season and it’s unclear how much he will, or should, play this season.

It’s become clear the Vikings have realized they can’t trust him enough to play in the nickel and that going through the offseason program and training camp did not result in the progress they wanted to see.

What’s not clear is why the Vikings assumed that basically gifting this job to Alexander was a good idea? There were many outside Winter Park – and probably many inside – who tried to tell them months ago that their logic was flawed.

For some reason, Spielman and Zimmer were in the small group who failed to realize this.

The post Zulgad: Mackensie Alexander’s failure to grab nickel role only a surprise to Vikings’ brass appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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