Minnesota Vikings: Antone Exum

The Minnesota Vikings begin the season with a difficult stretch of games that could take them out of the running for a playoff spot early if their defense isn't better than it was last year. They open the schedule on the road at St. Louis and then face the Patriots, Saints, Falcons and Packers between Sept. 14 and Oct. 2. That's an 18-day stretch where the Vikings will see Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, and if they can't emerge from their Thursday night game at Lambeau Field with at least two wins, they will have a tough time making the rest of their season count for much.

Complete Vikings season preview.

W2W4: Minnesota Vikings

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
12:00
PM ET
The Minnesota Vikings (1-0) and Arizona Cardinals (1-0) square off for their second preseason game on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

1. Starters to play more: Coach Mike Zimmer said quarterback Matt Cassel "has a chance" to play the entire first half on Saturday night, which would suggest the Vikings plan to give their first-team offense much more playing time than they saw last Friday against Oakland. Zimmer said this week he's never placed as much importance on the third preseason game as many seem to do, so it's possible the Vikings treat this week's game as more of a dress rehearsal than next Saturday's game against Kansas City. Adrian Peterson still won't play, but if Cassel -- who seems like the favorite to win the Vikings' quarterback job -- gets two quarters of work with the first-team offense, we'll get a good sense of how he's handling offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme against one of the league's best defenses.

2. Safety dance: The Vikings are still trying to sort out a crowded competition for the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith, and Zimmer said he wants to take a long look at four veterans on Saturday night: Chris Crocker, Andrew Sendejo, Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman. With Robert Blanton still out because of a hamstring injury, and rookie Antone Exum having played 60 snaps last week, it stands to reason the Vikings will use the four safeties for much of the night on Saturday. It's hard to envision a scenario where all four veterans are on the roster, and Zimmer said he's hoping Saturday's game will help the Vikings establish a pecking order at the position. That pecking order could have some important consequences for a number of players.

3. Cleaning up pass protection: Zimmer wasn't happy with the Vikings' pass protection last week, after the Raiders sacked the Vikings' quarterbacks six times and Teddy Bridgewater nearly lost a fumble deep in Raiders territory. The Vikings spent plenty of time focusing on protection schemes this week in practice, and though some of the blitz pickup work from their running backs looked better, the linemen were responsible for many of the sacks anyway -- especially the three that came late in the game on Christian Ponder. Particularly from younger players like David Yankey and Antonio Richardson, the Vikings will be looking for better results this week.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 12

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
8:05
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • Coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings came out of Friday's preseason opener relatively healthy, but the Vikings were missing several players at practice on Sunday afternoon. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson and linebacker Dom DeCicco weren't on the practice field, and safety Mistral Raymond (who suffered a concussion during Friday's game) was doing work on the side with safeties Robert Blanton and Jamarca Sanford, who missed Friday's game with hamstring and back injuries, respectively. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, of course, was not practicing after a stray bullet struck him in the calf in a nightclub incident on Saturday morning. On a more positive note, cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels returned from hamstring injuries, and tight end Chase Ford (broken foot) was once again out of a walking boot.
  • The Vikings began their practice outside, but had to move indoors for the first time during training camp thanks to a jagged bolt of lightning off to the west of their practice field. That turned Sunday's session into a glorified walk-through, and the Vikings were only able to do so much work inside the Minnesota State field house. Zimmer said he hadn't written practice schedules for this week until after Friday night's game, and the Vikings will have to resume the work of drilling their mistakes once they get back outdoors on Monday.
  • Zimmer wasn't thrilled with the way the Vikings' secondary played the run, particularly on Darren McFadden's 23-yard burst at the end of the first quarter. Safety Antone Exum had a shot at McFadden at the Raiders' 29, but came down with inside leverage and couldn't fight through McFadden's stiff arm to bring him down until the Raiders' 43. "I tell our guys all the time that long runs are typically because of the perimeter run force," Zimmer said. "We did not do a good job when the safety was coming downhill on that play, so we ended up giving him 14 more yards on that run than we should have."
  • Wide receiver Adam Thielen continued to win praise for his work on special teams, after returning three punts for 53 yards and making a tackle for a 4-yard loss on a punt at the end of the first half. Thielen was visibly upset he didn't score on his second return, which went for 26 yards, but special teams coach Mike Priefer said that was just a matter of Thielen making one more move. "He is probably disappointed that he didn’t score on the one, but that’s something that a young punt returner, that’s a mistake they are going to make," Priefer said. "He saw the seam and he just went for it full speed. He’s got to kind of dip and go to the outside or widen them and go back inside but it was a very, very well-blocked play." Priefer said Sherels is still entrenched as the Vikings' punt returner, but with Sherels fighting a hamstring injury, it's not bad for the Vikings to have another option they trust.
  • Rookie defensive tackle Shamar Stephen did well in Friday's game, Zimmer said. He wound up with five tackles in the game and showed some nice push up the middle on a couple run plays. With Joseph likely to miss some time, the seventh-round pick could see some more opportunities.
MANKATO, Minn. -- For the first time on Monday, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer will get to see safety Andrew Sendejo on the practice field.

Sendejo
The Vikings activated Sendejo from the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list on Monday, bringing him back from lower back and ankle injuries that had kept him out since the start of the team's offseason program. Sendejo started 10 games last year when injuries decimated the Vikings' secondary, but it had become apparent in recent days that he needed to get back on the field sooner than later to make an impression on Zimmer and assert himself in a crowded race for the starting safety spot opposite Harrison Smith.

It wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings ease Sendejo back into practice for a day or two, but once he's up to full speed, it bears watching how the team will use him. Robert Blanton seemed to have the inside track on the starting spot until he strained his hamstring last Monday, and a league source said last week Blanton could miss several weeks with the injury. In his absence, Mistral Raymond has gotten some first-team work, and Jamarca Sanford has gotten a longer look after missing time with injuries of his own. Those two, plus Kurt Coleman and rookie Antone Exum, present plenty of competition for Sendejo.

The Vikings are back on the practice field on Monday afternoon, following a day off on Sunday. The team shortened its morning walk-through to special-teams work only, so Monday afternoon will be the first chance to see where Sendejo fits.

 

 

Vikings wake-up call: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
9:45
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings have their normal routine of a 10:30-11:30 walk-through and a 3 p.m.-5:10 p.m. practice at Minnesota State University. Defensive coordinator George Edwards and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are scheduled to talk to reporters after the morning walk-through.

More observations from Thursday's practice:
  • The Vikings have been doing extensive work with Xavier Rhodes, their talented second-year corner who still seems to be learning to trust his instincts in coverage. Rhodes is expected to be the Vikings' top cover corner this year, and while coach Mike Zimmer's defense typically doesn't ask corners to travel across the field with one receiver, Rhodes will undoubtedly see his share of difficult matchups this season. On Thursday, he drove on a route early in practice, but dropped an interception for the second consecutive day. Later, in a seven-on-seven red zone drill, he showed good technique against Jerome Simpson, playing with inside leverage that forced Matt Cassel to make a difficult throw to the back corner of the end zone, but Rhodes turned a split-second late for the ball and tried to swat it, rather than hitting Simpson's hands as he leaped to catch it. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray explained to Rhodes afterward that he'd played the right technique in coverage, but he just needed to force the ball out, rather than trying to recover by batting it away. It was a vivid snapshot in what's been a camp full of learning for Rhodes.
  • Zimmer continued to mix and match players in his first-team defense, giving Tom Johnson some work with the top unit at 3-technique tackle and rotating Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and rookie Antone Exum in the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith with Robert Blanton out because of a hamstring injury. Zimmer said he will release the Vikings' first formal depth chart sometime next week, and at certain positions it's probably dangerous to assume too much about a pecking order, when the Vikings are trying to get a look at a handful of different players in a variety of roles. ""Really, it's just about figuring out what guys can do," Zimmer said. "The more you can do, the more value you have to this football team."
  • The Vikings are experimenting with first-round draft pick Anthony Barr in a number of different ways. He's played linebacker in their dime package, has rushed from a defensive end position in the nickel, in addition to his normal work at linebacker in the base defense. He'll have to be able to hold up in coverage as a linebacker, but Zimmer's had no complaints there so far. "Coverage is great. He moves well. He’s got a good idea," Zimmer said. "Somebody was telling me that he takes copious notes in the meetings. He’s got pages and pages of them as we talk, so he’s very, very into trying to learn what we’re trying to do and teach. He’s got a lot of raw, athletic ability that helps in the coverage aspect of things. There’s times when he may pull off of somebody a little bit too soon that he’s got to do better at. But for the most part, I’ve been very pleased with that."
They said it: "I would say the sky's the limit, but there's no ceiling to his potential. There really isn't. If he's willing to put in the time, the potential is there. He has everything he needs. He's starting to mature as a player, as an individual, so his success is going to shoot straight through the roof. I'm excited. I told him this, and maybe it was a little premature, but I told him, 'At some point, I'm going to tell my kids I played with Cordarrelle Patterson.'" --Wide receiver Greg Jennings on Patterson.
In the last few weeks before the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp, we're going to take a look at a number of players on their roster with something to prove this season, excluding rookies. We will focus primarily on veterans or players being asked to assume a larger role this season. Today: safety Jamarca Sanford.

Sanford
Why he has something to prove: Sanford missed three games last season and struggled through hamstring and groin injuries for a good chunk of the season, and Andrew Sendejo played well enough in Sanford's absence to make the safety position opposite Harrison Smith an open question heading into this season. Sanford took a pay cut this offseason, and wasn't able to make much of an impression during the Vikings' organized team activities and minicamp because of a muscle pull that kept him out of team drills for most of the spring. That meant Robert Blanton got plenty of work alongside Smith, and with Sendejo, Kurt Coleman and rookie Antone Exum in the mix, Sanford will have plenty of competition for a starting spot.

What he must do: Sanford has been one of the Vikings' best safeties in coverage, and that could come in handy this season as the Vikings toy with the idea of putting their safeties in man coverage more often. That would allow them to stay in their base defense instead of bringing in a nickel back, and Sanford can make a case there if he's healthy enough to keep up with receivers this season. He gave up just 0.33 yards per snap of pass coverage last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Though Sendejo was just behind Sanford, ranking 10th in the league with 0.34 yards per coverage snap, Sanford has a longer resume. If he's able to fare well against receivers in training camp and the preseason, it might help him make his case.

Projection: It wouldn't be surprising to see Sanford bumped out of a starting spot, as much competition with as there will be at safety and as interested in Blanton as the Vikings seemed to be this spring. But the guess here is Sanford will win the job to begin the season by a narrow margin, and get a chance to work toward his next contract, whether it's with the Vikings or someone else.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A look at the highlights from the first day of the Minnesota Vikings' mandatory minicamp on Tuesday:

1. Loaded for Barr: The Vikings got first-round pick Anthony Barr on the field for the first time with their full team on Tuesday, after he graduated from UCLA over the weekend, and head coach Mike Zimmer didn't hesitate to try out some of the different ways he wants to use the linebacker. Barr was at the strong-side linebacker position the Vikings expect him to play, but he also lined up as an edge rusher on some third downs. At 6-foot-4, he's taller than defensive ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, and if he can rush from the line of scrimmage, the Vikings can present a number of different looks to confuse opposing offenses, especially when Griffen's versatility enters the equation.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Anthony Barr
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsFirst-round pick Anthony Barr participated on the field on the first day of Vikings' mandatory minicamp.
2. Robinson returns: Cornerback Josh Robinson was back on the field on Tuesday, after missing the Vikings' organized team activities with a muscle pull. He was also back at an outside cornerback position, following last year's failed experiment at slot cornerback. Robinson got plenty of snaps in the Vikings' first-team defense on Tuesday, and could wind up playing in the nickel package once Captain Munnerlyn moves inside.

3. Quarterbacks look sharp: The Vikings ran plenty of play-action and bootleg plays on Tuesday, and all three of their quarterbacks had a successful afternoon practice. Matt Cassel missed just one of the nine throws he attempted in 11-on-11 and was 5-for-5 in 7-on-7 work. Teddy Bridgewater was 13-for-15 in 11-on-11 action and 4-for-5 in 7-on-7, and Christian Ponder hit all four throws he attempted. Ponder again got fewer snaps than Cassel or Bridgewater, but he looked good in what he was asked to do. "Everyone's getting reps with the ones and twos," Ponder said. "I'm not getting as many reps as the other guys, but I'm trying to take full advantage, and we'll see what happens. I don't know how long the evaluation process is going to be. I'm hoping it goes into training camp and preseason games, but we'll see."

4. Jennings impresses: Wide receiver Greg Jennings, who missed the Vikings' open OTA last week because of a charity event, caught four balls on the first day of minicamp, and saved his best for last, reaching out for a one-handed grab over the middle on a throw from Cassel in 7-on-7.

5. Middle linebacker plan emerges? The Vikings used Jasper Brinkley, Chad Greenway and Michael Mauti at middle linebacker on Tuesday, noticeably keeping Audie Cole on the outside after Cole played the middle at the end of last season. Brinkley has gotten more first-team work than anyone else in the middle, so far, but Zimmer cautioned not to read too much into that. "We have to line them up somewhere when we go, but I don't look at this guy is the favorite or that guy is the starter," he said. "(Brinkley)'s lined up with the first team right now, but I don't know, once we get him in practice and games and the things that prepare us for games and for the season, that will determine who lines up there on Sept. 7."

6. Safeties still limited: Jamarca Sanford was able to do a little more work after missing OTAs with a muscle injury, but the Vikings were mostly using Robert Blanton, Mistral Raymond, Antone Exum and Kurt Coleman, with Blanton often pairing with Harrison Smith in 7-on-7 drills. Safety Andrew Sendejo was still limited with a back injury. Tight end Allen Reisner sat out, and running back Joe Banyard was a limited participant. Matt Kalil and Linval Joseph were again limited after knee and shoulder surgeries this offseason, but Zimmer said he expects both to be ready for training camp.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings' safeties learn a defense that should bring much more variety to their roles than they had in the team's old scheme, a group of them is also auditioning for a role alongside Harrison Smith in the Vikings' starting lineup.

Coleman
Blanton
The Vikings have been rotating a number of safeties through their first-team defense during organized team activities, with Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo sitting out with injuries. Kurt Coleman, Robert Blanton, Brandan Bishop and rookie Antone Exum have all gotten plenty of work in OTAs, and the Vikings figure to use a number of combinations next week during their minicamp. Coach Mike Zimmer said that the Vikings will likely run through more drills like they did on Thursday, when they had safeties working at something closer to game speed, without as much direction from coaches in between plays.

"I think we'll get a little bit better feel of how it goes the more of this stuff like we did today, where the coaches aren't out there helping them, 'Hey, move this way, move that way. Line up here, line up there,'" Zimmer said at the Vikings' charity golf tournament. "When all the things happen and they have to make adjustments and checks because those guys are a lot like the quarterbacks for the defense when they get back there."

In the Vikings' old Cover 2 scheme, safety was a relatively staid position. The team used a defensive back to rush the passer on just 46 snaps last season, which was the sixth fewest in the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals, under Zimmer, sent a defensive back after the quarterback on 76 snaps, the 15th most in the league, and Smith said he expects a more diverse set of responsibilities in the Vikings' new defense. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has talked about how he'd like to be able to use safeties in man coverage, and even the Vikings' zone coverages will have safeties working more aggressively to eliminate space from receivers, so much so that some of the zones will look like man coverage to the naked eye, Smith said.

"The safeties get to do a lot more, whether it's in coverage, sometimes being the free guy, being able to go make a play on the ball, coming down in the box, getting involved in the run game, blitzing," he said. "You really get to do it all."

That means there's more to be gained from finding the right player to go next to Smith. The competition will get even thicker once Sanford and Sendejo are healthy, but it stands to reason the Vikings will take their opportunities to see a number of different safeties, especially when they'll ask them to be a more dynamic part of their defense.

"Harrison's a smart guy," Zimmer said. "Kurt Coleman's doing a good job. Robert Blanton's doing a good job. We've got a lot of guys who are continually working at those spots. We're just trying to get them in the right position where we can get them to go play."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings now have eight of their 10 draft picks officially signed. The team announced deals on Wednesday with sixth-round safety Antone Exum and first-rounder Anthony Barr (who had agreed to a $12.74 million contract on Tuesday morning).

Exum, who was the 182nd overall pick in the draft, is expected to receive a $115,788 signing bonus and $2,335,788 over the next four seasons, according to the standard deal for his draft slot. He played in just three games last season after tearing his ACL in a January 2013 basketball game and spraining his ankle following his return from knee surgery. Exum intercepted five passes in 2012 and was a second-team all-ACC pick. The Vikings will try him at safety after he spent much of his college career at cornerback.

"The bigger corners that may not be quite as fast that are better tacklers, that are more physical, smart -- they have to be smart -- we always have a little category for those guys to be a possibility of being safeties," coach Mike Zimmer said last week. "And (general manager) Rick (Spielman), their group upstairs, really they have little niche places for all of these guys, so they’ve been doing it for a while."

The Vikings' only unsigned draft picks, at this point, are their two third-rounders -- Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton and Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings have already signed three of their 10 draft picks, in a process that has been reduced to little more than a formality by the collective bargaining agreement owners and players agreed to in 2011. The rookie contracts for current players are so simple -- and there is so little leeway -- that teams and players are finding less incentive than ever to drag the negotiation process on toward training camp.

In fact, most of the NFC North is moving just as fast as the Vikings, if not faster. The Chicago Bears became the first team to sign all of their draft picks last week, and the Detroit Lions already have signed five of their eight picks. The Green Bay Packers have signed four of their nine picks.

There's no drama in this process now, not when the days of big contracts for rookies are gone. The Vikings have about $7.3 million in their NFL-allocated rookie pool to sign draft picks, and because teams only count their top 51 contracts against the cap in the offseason, the Vikings will need just more than $3.1 million in cap space to get their class of 2014 signed, according to the contract tracking site Over the Cap.

Here is a quick look at the allocated signing bonuses for the Vikings' 10 picks, according to ESPN Stats and Information and Over the Cap. Fifth-rounder David Yankey, sixth-rounder Kendall James and seventh-rounder Jabari Price are already signed, and Yankey's and Price's deals are in line with the allocations for their spots. The players that are actually signed are in bold:
  • First round: LB Anthony Barr, 9th overall pick ($7,588,072 signing bonus, $12,743,596 total package); QB Teddy Bridgewater, 32nd overall pick ($3,301,456 signing bonus, $6,849,502 total package).
  • Third round: DE Scott Crichton, 72nd overall pick ($656,324 signing bonus, $2,997,224 total package); RB Jerick McKinnon, 96th overall pick ($515,000 signing bonus, $2,745,000 total package).
  • Fifth round: G David Yankey, 145th overall pick ($206,900 signing bonus, $2,426,900 total package).
  • Sixth round: S Antone Exum, 182nd overall pick ($115,788 signing bonus, $2,335,788 total package); CB Kendall James, 184th overall pick ($113,452 signing bonus, $2,333,452 total package).
  • Seventh round: DT Shamar Stephen, 220th overall pick ($65,148 signing bonus, $2,285,148 total package); LB Brandon Watts, 223rd overall pick, ($62,448 signing bonus, $2,282,448 total package); CB Jabari Price, 225th overall pick ($61,820 signing bonus, $2,281,820 total package).
MINNEAPOLIS -- We touched on this in some detail in the second part of our Vikings mailbag this morning, and also in this look at the team's plan for Harrison Smith, but I wanted to briefly revisit the idea of getting good cover safeties in Mike Zimmer's defense and what that could mean for how the position plays out this season.

General manager Rick Spielman mentioned after the draft that the Vikings' coaching staff wants safeties with the skills to handle receivers in man coverage, and as NFL offenses have shifted toward the passing game, putting more wideouts on the field and flexing more agile tight ends out from the line of scrimmage, defenses have responded by asking their safeties to be more versatile. The strong safety/free safety designation is all but gone in the NFL -- largely because teams can't presume to have one safety who's primarily there to play the run -- and as Zimmer said last week, the league has gotten to a point where he's wondered if it's a better idea to take a safety off the field altogether.

"The safety position in college football really is hard to find guys now at least in my opinion -- guys that have the coverage ability that you are looking for," he said. "There are times in my career that I always thought, 'Let’s play three with corners and one safety and make the other guy a safety because of the throwing that's been going on in the league.' The bigger corners that may not be quite as fast that are better tacklers, that are more physical, smart -- they have to be smart -- we always have a little category for those guys to be a possibility of being safeties."

Zimmer said that in response to a question about rookie Antone Exum, whom the Vikings will convert from cornerback to safety, and if the Virginia Tech rookie wins some playing time this year, it will probably be because of his coverage ability. We saw this play out in Cincinnati, where Zimmer's best defenses had two safeties who could handle receivers; according to Pro Football Focus, the Bengals' George Iloka allowed the fifth-fewest yards per coverage snap of any safety in the league last season, while counterpart Reggie Nelson ranked 12th. In 2012, Nelson and Chris Crocker were 18th and 21st in the league, respectively.

That could also bode well for Jamarca Sanford, who's been one of the Vikings' better coverage safeties over the past few seasons. He allowed just 149 yards in 452 snaps of pass coverage last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and tied Seattle's Earl Thomas for the seventh-best figure in the league (the Vikings' Andrew Sendejo was ninth). In 2012, Sanford gave up only 199 yards in 476 coverage snaps, as he played well enough to get a two-year deal from the Vikings.

The competition for playing time at safety this year -- especially at the spot opposite Smith -- figures to be a heated race between Sanford, Sendejo, Exum, Kurt Coleman, Robert Blanton and Mistral Raymond, but in today's NFL, and especially in the NFC North, how well the Vikings' safeties can handle receivers will play a significant role in setting the pecking order.
Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for our weekly Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can send them to me on Twitter any time during the week at @GoesslingESPN, using the hashtag #VikingsMail. There were plenty of good questions after the draft this week. We covered the first handful of them on Saturday, and we'll look at another set of them this morning.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. We'll get started here for the day, with a topic that's getting plenty of attention after coach Mike Zimmer said on Friday that Teddy Bridgewater will get some first-team reps before the season. To be clear, the fact that Bridgewater will get some first-team snaps doesn't mean he's in line to be the opening day starter, nor does it mean he should be. There's no reason to rush him along, with Matt Cassel signed for two years and having offered a few snapshots of his ability to lead the Vikings' offense. To me, the only way Bridgewater should start in Week 1 is if he's so much better than Cassel before the season that it's a clear choice. If anything, the Vikings' trade back into the first round to select Bridgewater should engender more patience, not less; the Vikings now have a fifth-year option on his contract that they wouldn't have had if he'd still been there for them in the second round. I also wouldn't rule out Bridgewater starting later in the year if he doesn't start Week 1, especially if the Vikings get off to a poor start against their tough opening schedule. Essentially, I'd do this: If Bridgewater is good enough to beat out Cassel for the job, give it to him. If he's not, don't force him onto the field just to get his feet wet and showcase the future to the fans. There will be plenty of time for that, and the great benefit of the Vikings re-signing Cassel is the flexibility it bought them. They should use it wisely.

@GoesslingESPN: I wouldn't say the safety competition is exclusively between Jamarca Sanford and Antone Exum; there are plenty of other players, like Andrew Sendejo, Kurt Coleman, Robert Blanton and Mistral Raymond, who will be fighting for playing time at safety. The thing I think the Vikings like about Exum is that he should theoretically have good cover skills as a safety, having played cornerback in college. General manager Rick Spielman has talked about the new coaching staff's desire to have safeties who can cover receivers, and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has held up Seattle's safeties (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) as a model of the versatility that safeties who can cover receivers buy for their teams. That said, I can't see the Vikings having three safeties on the field unless one of them is good enough to moonlight as a cover corner. Exum might be able to do that, and Blanton played slot cornerback some last season, but the Vikings doing that would likely mean something went wrong with their group of cornerbacks.

@GoesslingESPN: The possibility of NFL discipline for wide receiver Jerome Simpson is one reason why I thought the Vikings might take a receiver in the middle rounds of the draft. The fact that they didn't means that they'll have to hope the league doesn't come down on Simpson for his drunken-driving arrest last November, or that someone else on their roster can emerge. Jarius Wright has shown flashes of being a contributor as a slot receiver, and he might be less at risk of getting lost in Norv Turner's offense than he did at times in Bill Musgrave's, but the Vikings could really use another receiver that can line up outside and allow Greg Jennings to work in the slot, where he saw much of his success in Green Bay. I wouldn't discount Adam Thielen, who spent last season on the Vikings' practice squad and offers some of the size they need at 6-foot-3. Even if Simpson isn't disciplined, the Vikings could benefit from another receiver emerging, since Jennings will be 31 in September and Cordarrelle Patterson, for all his talent, is still only three years removed from junior college.

@GoesslingESPN: We'll close here for the week, since this question will be a natural follow-up from the previous one. That's because Erik Lora, who was Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite target at Eastern Illinois, could have a chance to fight for a roster spot at slot receiver. Antonio Richardson, the Tennessee tackle who went undrafted after being projected to go on the second day of the draft, could be a nice pickup if the Vikings can figure out how to manage his health (there were concerns before draft that Richardson would only play several years because of arthritic knees). Tight end AC Leonard is intriguing because of his speed (a 4.5 40) and the fact he can play a number of different spots, but he'd have to learn to play in-line and handle blockers effective (he's just 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds). All three have potential, and some significant question marks, but it's becoming more common for teams to find solid contributors in the ranks of undrafted free agents. The Vikings will have to hope they've got a couple this year.

Vikings rookie camp primer

May, 16, 2014
May 16
11:45
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings continue their rookie camp Friday at their facility in Eden Prairie, Minn., getting their first chance to work with their 10 draft picks, 15 undrafted free agents and more than a dozen players from around the region who will receive tryouts.

Friday is the only day of media access to the Vikings' rookie camp. Here are a few things I'm particularly interested in seeing:

Bridgewater
Bridgewater's debut: The Vikings are getting their first extended chance to coach first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater, and in light of how well the former Louisville quarterback responded to a little coaching at his private workout (according to general manager Rick Spielman), I'll be curious to see how he looks in his initial trips through the Vikings' playbook. He won't have any of the receivers he'll eventually be working with -- he'll be able to start throwing to them in the coming weeks -- but Friday will offer the first glimpse into Bridgewater's early development as a NFL quarterback.

Competition at corner: The Vikings didn't add a defensive back in the draft until the sixth round, and the three they drafted in the final two rounds (Virginia Tech safety Antone Exum, Maine cornerback Kendall James and North Carolina cornerback Jabari Price) will have to fight for roster spots. But Spielman sounded optimistic about James (who called himself an "all-around great cover corner" in a conference call with reporters), and Exum could be an intriguing fit at safety. He's big and physical enough to play the position, but the Vikings also want to be able to do some of what we've seen Seattle do with their safeties, putting them in coverage against inside receivers and allowing their linebackers to stay on the field in passing situations. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray talked about that with Harrison Smith last month, and Spielman mentioned that as a possibility for Exum, too. "What is intriguing about him, as we sit there and talk with our coaches, is that they also want guys at the safety position that can be cover guys," Spielman said. "This was kind of a unique player for us because he is physical on support. He has played corner, but because of his size and his physicality in the run game we feel he can maybe transition to safety."

Barr
Breaking in Barr: Linebacker Anthony Barr's pass-rushing skills are what earned him headlines at UCLA, but the Vikings wouldn't have taken him ninth overall if they didn't think he could be a complete linebacker that can stay on the field for three downs. He's only been at linebacker for two years after switching from the running back position, and has shown good instincts at the position, but he'll need to get stronger and refine his technique at the NFL level. That begins this weekend, and as much as coach Mike Zimmer pays attention to details on defense, he'll likely spend plenty of time with Barr. "It’s not that he is so raw that he is not a good football player, because he is a really good football player," Zimmer said. "I don’t want anybody to think that because he is inexperienced that he is not a good football player. He will be good. I’m excited about the chance to take him and mold him into what I really envision him to be, which I think will be good."

Target at tight end: Tennessee State tight end AC Leonard, whom the Vikings signed as an undrafted free agent, has the athletic ability to be an interesting option in Norv Turner's offense. He's only 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, and could get swallowed up by defensive ends, but his 40 time (4.50), high jump (34 inches) and broad jump (128 inches) were the best of any tight end at the NFL scouting combine. Leonard played all over the field in college, and though he'll need plenty of work, both on and off the field (he was arrested for misdemeanor battery in 2012 and cited for driving with a suspended license three months later), his athletic ability could keep him around for an extended look.

Garoppolo's receiver tries to catch on: You'll hear plenty of talk about former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who signed with the Vikings as a receiver after leading the efforts for Northwestern players to unionize, but of the Vikings' three undrafted receiver additions, former Eastern Illinois receiver Erik Lora might have the best chance of sticking around. He caught 136 passes in 2012, setting a FCS record as Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite target, and scored 19 touchdowns in 2013. He's only 5-foot-10, and will have to show he can produce against better competition -- and in a more complex offense than he had in college -- but Lora might have potential as a slot receiver.
MINNEAPOLIS -- On a defense that had plenty of holes last year, it's difficult to argue the Minnesota Vikings' biggest problem was anything other than their secondary. They gave up more points than any team in the league, allowed the second-most passing yards and ranked in the bottom third in the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio, first downs per passing attempt and yards per attempt.

The Vikings signed Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to play the slot position after their experiment with Josh Robinson backfired last season, and they picked up former Chargers cornerback Derek Cox after San Diego released him in March. With other needs to address in the draft, though, the Vikings didn't add any help for their secondary until the sixth and seventh rounds, when they selected three defensive backs -- Virginia Tech's Antone Exum, Maine's Kendall James and North Carolina's Jabari Price.

Of the three, Exum might have the most immediate chance to contribute. He'll begin his time with the Vikings as a safety, and he's over a year removed from a torn ACL he sustained in a pickup basketball game in January 2013. Exum also missed time with a sprained ankle after his return from knee surgery last season, and he might have slipped in the draft due to concerns about his health and because he had so few chances to prove himself in front of scouts last season. The Vikings will have plenty of competition at safety opposite Harrison Smith, though, and Exum is impressive enough physically that he might attract attention in training camp.

"My strengths are my speed, my size, ball skills, physicality, point of attack and tackling," Exum said in a conference call Saturday. "I feel like I have unique covering ability and also to make the big play at the big moment."

As a whole, though, the Vikings will once again be betting on the ability of young players to develop quickly in the secondary -- and they'll be doing so without the help of another high pick at defensive back. New coach Mike Zimmer initially made his reputation coaching defensive backs, and secondary coach Jerry Gray was previously the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator, so the Vikings should be able to give their defensive backs plenty of help. General manager Rick Spielman also left the door open for a later addition in the secondary, adding "you are not done when the draft is done.

"There are going to be some things that happen through the rest of the season, but I know we don't play until September, so there can be a lot of things as we go through," he said.

Short of signing a veteran later in the offseason -- possibly after June 1, when salary cap rules make it easier for teams to shed large contracts -- the Vikings will need defensive backs to emerge quickly. That could be Robinson beating out Cox for playing time now that he's back outside, someone taking charge other safety position or one of the team's late-round picks catching on sooner than expected. Munnerlyn solved a major need in the secondary, but at least at this point, it appears the Vikings will be counting on player development to solve their other ones.

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