Vikings to start Blanton, Brinkley vs. Rams

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Though his explanation of the moves didn't suggest the Minnesota Vikings have their strong safety and middle linebacker positions completely settled, coach Mike Zimmer did confirm Robert Blanton and Jasper Brinkley will be the respective starters at those positions Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

Blanton and Brinkley had been stationed atop the Vikings' depth chart at their positions, and it seemed likely each would start heading into the team's regular-season opener. Zimmer said Blanton, who missed part of the preseason with a hamstring injury, got the job in part because "he probably made less mistakes than anybody. Zimmer also said the Vikings would continue to evaluate their decisions on a week-to-week basis, but both players have specific traits that gave them a chance to keep starting jobs for now.

For Blanton, it's his coverage skills. He played cornerback in college, working in the same secondary as Harrison Smith, and briefly moved to slot cornerback when injuries ravaged the Vikings' depth last season. The Vikings will ask their safeties to handle receivers in man coverage this season more often than they used to, and Blanton's experience as a cornerback should make him more useful in this defense.

"He's always just had a nose for the ball," Smith said. "He just makes plays wherever you put him: corner, safety, he's made a ton of plays on special teams since he's been here. ... The safety who has a lot of experience covering man-to-man, that's kind of an added bonus."

Against a Rams team that figures to run the ball to help starting quarterback Shaun Hill take over for the injured Sam Bradford, Brinkley makes sense as the Vikings' middle linebacker. The Vikings could still use Audie Cole in passing situations where they want to stay in their base defense, but the Rams' game plan might lend itself toward the Vikings using Brinkley more often this week.

"Jasper is a little bit more of a thumper in the running game,” Zimmer said. “[St. Louis] has got a good running game. I think their offensive line does a nice job in run blocking. So I think it will be a good match for him.”