- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MANKATO, Minn -- Though it might be technically true, it's probably not accurate, in the spirit of Chris Crocker's relationship with Mike Zimmer, to say the coach brought the safety out of retirement for the third consecutive year. Yes, the 34-year-old was out of the league until the Minnesota Vikings signed him last week, but he'd been preparing all offseason to join Zimmer at some point, to play an eighth straight season for him and fill a role the coach needs as much as ever.
The Vikings are new to Zimmer's 4-3 defense, which isn't overly complex but relies on sound technique and represents a significant change from the Vikings' old scheme. Crocker has played in the defense since 2007. He knows it well enough that he can serve as Zimmer's interpreter on the field, lending some additional perspective when the coach's teaching points are seasoned with profanity.
"The delivery might not sound good, but there’s a message with him," Crocker said. "I’m able to say, ‘Hey, this is what he really means,’ so we’ll go from there.”
As discombobulated as the Vikings' safety position appears right now, Crocker could wind up starting next to Harrison Smith, especially as injuries keep Robert Blanton, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo and Mistral Raymond out of practice and preseason games. The Vikings didn't use Crocker last Friday against the Oakland Raiders, but he'll play on Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals now that he's back in better football shape.
"I've shown I can come in later on and still play at a high level," Crocker said. "I'm an older guy; it's sort of like, 'Hey, you give me a little break.' I didn't come in the first week and a half of camp, but I'm a guy that's been there, done that and seen it."
The Vikings will ask their safeties to play more man coverage than they did in the past, and Friday's game saw Smith lining up over slot receivers, in addition to blitzing the quarterback. The defense asks safeties to handle a variety of tasks, Crocker said, and his familiarity with what Zimmer wants might end up vaulting him ahead of safeties who haven't been on the field enough to show they grasp the defense.
"He's a very good cover guy," Smith said. "I don't know what I'll be doing, blitzing or playing deep. I just know he's a guy that makes plays on the ball and that's easy to play with."