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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Kearse steps into new role vs. 49ers, shows versatility of Vikings’ defense

By Matthew Coller

When Trae Waynes went down with a leg injury, it was unclear who would take over at cornerback.

With Mackensie Alexander out already for the Minnesota Vikings in their Week 1 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, they were down to only rookie Holton Hill as the remaining corner on the roster. Hill saw some playing time, but head coach Mike Zimmer quickly switched to third-year safety Jayron Kearse as his nickel corner option. First-round pick Mike Hughes moved from the slot to outside corner.

Kearse, who stood out as a cornerback at 6-foot-4, played the role admirably in a pinch. After the game, he said that playing three safeties on the field at once was actually part of the plan.

“We’ve been running that since camp started, it just happened that today was the day we were able to actually make it happen,” Kearse said. “It was good. It wasn’t like it was my first time stepping out there and being at nickel. It’s something we’ve been working on.”

Kearse was taken in the seventh round of the 2016 draft. He saw some playing time at safety in his rookie year, but spent all of last season on special teams while Anthony Harris handled fill-in duty at safety.

It’s possible he’s found a niche in a defense that appears to be determined to use more rotational players.

”Coach Zimmer is a mastermind so he’s definitely going to put all the players in the best positions to go out there and make plays to help this team,” Kearse said. “As the year goes on, there’s probably going to be somethings that we do differently than in the past.”

Kearse said he worked on the nickel spot with Terence Newman, who retired before the season to become the coach for inside corners.

“It’s really good just to have those guys who believed in me, from Coach Zimmer to Coach [Jerry] Gray to Terence,” he said.

Following the 24-16 win, Zimmer talked about why Kearse worked well as a nickel.

“He’s big and rangy,” he said. “I know he tipped one ball on a blitz one time. He’s tall and he’s quick. He’s really improved a lot from his rookie year to now…understanding concepts in the defense. I think that has helped him. Sometimes safeties when they go to nickel, they understand the pattern reads and all those things a little better than a guy coming in from corner that has never seen the different combinations.”

Fellow safety Andrew Sendejo added that the approach changes for a safety when moving down to the line of scrimmage.

”Depends on the call and what kind of offense you’re going against, but typically when you’re down in there you’re more like a linebacker, so you have to have more of a linebacker mentality, know what kind of fits you have…it adds another dynamic to it,” he said.

On the defensive line, the Vikings rotated at multiple positions, using Stephen Weatherly, Tashawn Bower, Jaleel Johnson and David Parry at different times — and on one occasion used them all together (not to Zimmer’s liking).

“The coaches, they trust in the younger guys to go out there and get the job done,” Everson Griffen said. “Tashawn and Stephen played their tails off during the preseason and that’s why they’re here. I trust in them and I know the coache too too. It just helps a lot being able to get that four or five play rest.”

Overall the Vikings held Jimmy Garoppolo to under 50 percent completion percentage and picked him off three times, including once for a touchdown by Hughes.

Zimmer said there is still improvements to be made in Hughes’ game, despite his strong performance.

”He had some unsure things going on today that we’ll get corrected and I think he will be better for it,” Zimmer said. “He’s a good kid, good football player and he got a nice ball thrown to him one time today.”

The post Kearse steps into new role vs. 49ers, shows versatility of Vikings’ defense appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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