EAGAN, Minn. – Two first-year cornerbacks made an impact on Minnesota's first win of the 2020 season.
Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, whom the Vikings drafted in the first and third round, respectively, started at Houston on Sunday. The pair of rookies helped contribute to a Minnesota secondary that has seen its share of struggles to start the season but saw better results against the Texans.
The game marked the first time the Vikings have started two rookie corners since 1999. Minnesota played four games that season in which Kenny Wright started on the outside and Chris Rogers started in the slot. Veteran Jimmy Hitchcock started all 16 games on the outside that season.
"Coming in, when they drafted us, me and Jeff talked when we first got picked," Dantzler told Twin Cities media members on Monday. "We knew we had to come in and play because they lost a lot of big-name guys last year, so we just took pride in that. We couldn't let [Vikings Head Coach Mike] Zimmer down."
View game action images as the Minnesota Vikings take on the Houston Texans in Week 4.
The Vikings are working with a young cornerbacks group after the departure of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander this offseason. Dantzler started Week 1 before a rib injury sidelined him for games against the Colts and Titans. Gladney has started the past two games in place of an injured Mike Hughes.
Against the Texans on Sunday, Gladney totaled five tackles (press box stats), one tackle for loss and a pass defensed. Dantzler added three tackles on the day.
"Coach Zimmer has confidence in two rookies starting the game off, so we take pride in that," Dantzler said. "I just feel like at the end of the day, me and Jeff, we can't let Coach Zimmer down – [or] ourselves down.
"We're very confident in our game. We step out there and just do what we've gotta do to win and stop our guy from catching the ball."
According to Dantzler, the Vikings defenders kept their cool when All-Pro safety Harrison Smith was flagged for targeting and ejected from the game late in the second quarter.
"You know, when Harrison went out, [Anthony Harris] stepped up. Harry is a great leader, but Ant' is a great leader also," Dantzler said. "We had to stay positive. George [Iloka], he's played a lot of years in the league, so he's a great player and very smart.
"We didn't panic; we just kept going and came out on top," he added.
Dantzler acknowledged that there was a miscommunication between him and Iloka on the 24-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller V early in the third quarter.
He emphasized, though, that it's important to not dwell on mistakes but learn from them and get better.
"You know, it was a miscommunication, but we just had to put that play past us and move forward, and that's what we did," Dantzler explained. "In the secondary, you're going to make mistakes and it's just how you build from that mistake. That's what we did, just moved forward."
After brutal losses in Weeks 1 and 2 and losing a close one to Tennessee last week, a win in Houston felt especially rewarding.
"It was a great feeling to finally pull one off," Dantzler said. "We just have to build that fire and continue to win."
The Vikings young secondary has been tested by tough quarterbacks week after week, and the upcoming Sunday Night Football game in Seattle will be no different. Not only will they play in prime time for the first time this season, but Dantzler and Co. will face one of the NFL's toughest signal-callers in Russell Wilson.
Dantzler has admired Wilson's game from afar but realizes the magnitude of this outing will far outweigh a Madden matchup.
"Russell Wilson is just a great quarterback, one of the tops in the league," Dantzler said. "We just have to prepare like we do every week, practice real hard and study on the things that he does. I feel like we're going to do that and try to come out with a win.
"I've watched them growing up, but I'm playing against them, so I can't get excited," he added about the caliber of QBs he'll be facing. "I have to stay focused and get prepared every week. That's how they feed their family and how I feed my family, so at the end of the day, I just have to prepare for those guys."
The Vikings first injury report of the week won't roll out until Wednesday, so it's too early to know if Dantzler and Gladney will both start again in Week 5. But ultimately, Dantzler said, it doesn't matter.
"At the end of the day, I feel like all of us have one goal, and that's to win. No matter who starts," he said. "No matter if I start, Jeff, Mike, Holton [Hill] – it doesn't matter. I feel like we have a connection to where we're going to be there for our brothers. Whoever starts, starts. We're just going to come in and contribute together."