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Safety Valve: Vikings Turn To Veteran Crocker

Posted Aug 13, 2014

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) - Health problems have piled up in recent weeks for the Minnesota Vikings at strong safety, already one of the iffiest positions on their roster.

Harrison Smith has the free safety spot in good hands, but a host of others lacking a standout have been competing to be the starter next to him. Then the Vikings signed Chris Crocker, and the outlook cleared up a bit.

''He's kind of just come in and really been a calming storm with the injuries we've had back there at safety,'' defensive coordinator George Edwards said.

When a 12-year veteran joins a team after the beginning of training camp, such a move can look desperate. Crocker obviously won't be as fast at age 34 as he was at 25, but he's had success in coverage and blitzing.

Savviness is an important trait, too, particularly in this case with a new scheme under coach Mike Zimmer. Crocker has more than six seasons of experience in it, primarily with Zimmer as his defensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

''We're trying to win ballgames right now, and you don't really have a lot of time to wait and see,'' Crocker said.

So instead of playing catch up, Crocker actually has a head start.

''I'm the older guy: been there, done that, seen it. So if I'm not able to come in and acclimate fast then I shouldn't be here, I guess,'' Crocker said.

Crocker was a late signing the past two years, too, not joining the Bengals until well into September. He didn't consider himself retired this time, either, but he wasn't interested in starting over with a new system with a coach other than Zimmer.

''I don't know how, but he has got me to play at a very high level throughout my career, and I've played my best football with him,'' Crocker said. ''So it's just not smart to go somewhere else at this point. I want to end on a good note if this is my last year, or next year or whenever.''

Working his way back into game shape, with the weight of the helmet and pads, has been a challenge. The Vikings held Crocker out of the exhibition opener last Friday against Oakland to give him more time, but he's on track to start next to Smith this Saturday against Arizona.

''We know he's a true pro. Great communicator back there. He has an extensive knowledge in this defensive scheme, so he's not going to be surprised by what somebody offensively does schematically,'' Edwards said.

Jamarca Sanford has started most of the games at this spot the past two years, but new coaching staffs always require players to prove their ability.

He's been bothered by a back injury, too, as has Andrew Sendejo. Robert Blanton started camp with the first team, but Zimmer said this week he likely will miss another preseason game with hamstring trouble.

Sanford and Sendejo are expected to play against the Cardinals, along with Mistral Raymond, who left the game against the Raiders with a concussion.

Rookie Antone Exum, a fifth-round draft pick from Virginia Tech, has also been in the mix. With Crocker being held out along with the slew of injured safeties, Kurt Coleman started at that spot last Friday.

''Really all I ask for is just an opportunity. At the end of the day, I think I can live with myself if I say I had the opportunity and I didn't make it,'' Coleman said.