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Bleacher Report – Vikings

For Mackensie Alexander, there’s a learning curve from college to the NFL

By Derek Wetmore

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – When defensive backs guru and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks at rookie Mackensie Alexander he sees the potential for a great player. But he’s not quite there yet, and there will be bumps in the road, as is to be expected with cornerbacks in today’s NFL even among high draft picks like Alexander.

With nickleback Captain Munnerlyn being downgraded to “out” for Sunday’s game against Washington, The rookie from Clemson could be in line for some more game action – although if the second half of last week’s game is any indication, the Vikings could simply play veteran Terence Newman in the slot to replace Munnerlyn, with Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes taking outside corner duties.

Alexander played more defensive snaps in Sunday’s overtime loss against the Lions (18) than any other game this season. That uptick in playing time was due largely to Captain Munnerlyn’s in-game injury.

After Alexander committed a red zone penalty and gave up a touchdown to the physically imposing Anquan Boldin to close the first half, Newman was in the slot in place of Munnerlyn, with Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes on the outside, to begin the second half.

“In this last ball game, he didn’t play that great,” Zimmer said of Alexander, “but I think the guy is going to be a good player.”

“He has some of these things that young guys do: [He] probably thinks he know a little bit more than he knows, a little handsy — as a lot of these college guys are. But he’s a good competitor. He’s very good in and out of his breaks. He has got some toughness. I think he’s going to be a really, really good player.”

Alexander’s problem in the first half against the Lions was isolated but relatively clear. His NFL draft profile says he entered the league at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds. Boldin, a 14-year NFL vet, is 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. While that kind of size disparity isn’t atypical of the matchup, what appeared to separate the two was experience.

As the Lions drove for a touchdown late in the second quarter, Alexander had to clutch and grab Boldin, who had set his body position to seal off Alexander if QB Matthew Stafford would have been able to get a throw there in time. He was a little late, but Stafford extended the play by running out of the pocket and threw it in Boldin’s direction, where Alexander was promptly flagged for the excessive contact.

On the next play, Boldin hit Alexander with both arms as part of his physical release off the line of scrimmage, and then turned over his left shoulder to continue the route toward the front corner of the end zone. The jab created enough separation, and Stafford found his big receiver in a mismatch with the Vikings’ rookie corner and threw for the touchdown.

You watch Alexander play in the preseason and in the limited opportunity he’s had in regular season games this year, and it’s clear there’s some underlying ability. It may need to be refined for the second-round pick to reach his full potential.

Zimmer was asked this week if he sees a parallel between Alexander and second-year corner Trae Waynes, who was slow to get playing time last season as Terence Newman held onto his job, and Waynes showed signs of a learning curve in Year 1.

Zimmer’s answer related not just those two corners, but also Xavier Rhodes, who has continued his rise to prominence this year with some shutdown outings against top receivers like Kelvin Benjamin and Odell Beckham Jr.

“Yeah, I don’t think they’re the same kind of guys, necessarily, in their coverage aspects, but I do think it’s the transition to the NFL for corners. It’s a hard job … you get to do a lot things in college that you can’t do in this league. So, sometimes you just have to keep understanding, and Xavier [Rhodes] had kind of had that issue, as well, when he came out. So, it’s not unusual.”

The post For Mackensie Alexander, there’s a learning curve from college to the NFL appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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