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Bleacher Report – Vikings

With Harrison Smith out, Terence Newman should move to safety

By Matthew Coller

Harrison Smith is a rare talent that cannot be replaced easily.

It would be tough to figure out exactly how many points or wins his presence is worth to the Minnesota Vikings, but Smith’s versatility, athleticism and instinct for his position make him the linchpin of the Vikings’ defense, which ranks third in the NFL in yards per play and fourth in points against.

With Smith out against the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday and possibly the rest of the season, the Vikings should consider moving cornerback Terence Newman to safety for the remaining four games instead of filling the role with rookie Jayron Kearse or Anthony Harris.

Why? The 38-year-old defensive back knows head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense like you know your DOB and SSN.

“Terence is a great leader, No. 1,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “He’s a great person, No. 2. He plays well. He’s very smart. I think he helps with a lot of these guys just getting them to understand. He’s almost like a coach on the field getting them to understand. He helps them study, helps them learn how to study, helps them learn how to play with better technique and really all of those things.”

Newman is not only defying the age curve by playing in the NFL at 38, he’s doing it exceptionally well. Pro Football Focus rates him as the Vikings’ top cornerback. Of course, that’s without adjustment for quality of competition as Xavier Rhodes has dominated elite receivers all year, but the stat suggests the former Cowboy and Bengal is doing his job exceptionally well.

But his role at corner can be replaced with a better player than Smith’s role at safety. Backup cornerback Trae Waynes, a former first-round pick, has filled in as a starter at times when both Rhodes and Newman have missed games whereas Kearse struggled mightily in games against Philadelphia and Chicago. The fact that he was ahead of Harris on the depth chart says something.

Not only is Newman familiar with the role of every defender in Zim’s defense, he’s developed versatility in his own game over the years. According to PFF’s Eric Eager, he’s allowed just 0.87 yards per coverage snap in the slot this season and is in the middle of the pack as a run defender.

If Newman were used in the safety spot against Jacksonville, it wouldn’t be the first time. Against the Arizona Cardinals last season, Smith and Sendejo were both out, forcing Zimmer to move Newman to play alongside Harris at safety.

While Carson Palmer had a strong game against the Vikings, completing 25-of-35 passes and tossing two touchdowns, he attacked Harris much more often than the veteran.

Newman was only targeted once on this play, which he matched up with the tight end and used his speed to get underneath the route and break up the pass.

Newman either played up toward the line of scrimmage in man coverage or was “center field” safety, dropping back in deep coverage. He rushed twice and pressured Palmer both times.

Meanwhile Harris had a tough night against the Cards. He was the deep man on both Palmer’s 65-yard and 42-yard touchdown passes, failing to make a TD-saving tackle on both plays. Then with 3:29 remaining in the game, he was slow to react to a 22-yard pass to Michael Floyd that helped set up the game-winning touchdown.

Blake Bortles is no Carson Palmer. The Jags’ quarterback is struggling so badly that it might not matter who plays quarterback. But against Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings would be making a mistake to allow either a rookie or depth safety to take the field with their season on the line.

The post With Harrison Smith out, Terence Newman should move to safety appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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