In the days leading up to 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, vikings.com will take a position-by-position preview of the roster.
The Vikings pass defense left a lot to be desired in 2013. The responsibility for that rests at the feet of many positions, but generally speaking the blame is aimed toward the secondary when opposing offenses are passing the ball all over the field. With all of that being said, expect the cornerback and safety positions to be heavily scrutinized by coaches, fans and media during 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp.
View some of the best offseason images of the Vikings defensive backs.
At cornerback, competition will be steep. Xavier Rhodes, entering his second season, is poised to take a big step forward and should have one starting spot secured. Captain Munnerlyn, a proven veteran signed in free agency this offseason, also figures to play a prominent role in head coach Mike Zimmer's defense. After that, though, it's all about the competition. Shaun Prater, Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels are returning Vikings who will be there to compete for spots on the depth chart, and they will be joined by free agent signing Derek Cox and draft picks Kendall James and Jabari Price in this training camp battle. Julian Posey and Robert Steeples round out this group.
Each of the aforementioned cornerbacks had good moments during the offseason program, but they must now string together a few solid weeks of practices and preseason games to show Zimmer they have what it takes to help turnaround the Vikings pass defense.
At safety, a pillar of the Vikings defense will return from a season in which he played in just eight games. Given his versatility to impact the game as a blitzer, as a run defender and in coverage, Smith projects to be a perfect fit for Zimmer's defense. Opposite Smith at the other starting safety is where the competition in this group comes into play. Jamarca Sanford enters camp as the incumbent starter, but he has plenty of challengers. Atop the list of challengers is Robert Blanton, who flashed a bit last season but also had a few missteps. The missteps were few and far between this offseason and the splashy plays were more common.
After Blanton, the Vikings will see veteran Kurt Coleman, returning Vikings Brandan Bishop, Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo, and draft pick Antone Exum battle for reps in practice and, eventually, spots on the roster. Exum is an interesting option because he was a highly-touted prospect at Virginia Tech before an injury, and he played both cornerback and safety for the Hokies. The Vikings have decided to train him at safety, and he did impress frequently during the time he was at Winter Park following the draft.
After a season in which the Vikings pass defense ranked at or near the bottom in most major statistical categories, there will be an expectation for improvement. With Zimmer at the controls and with an influx of talent added to a young group of returning players, this group has the potential to improve drastically, beginning in Mankato at training camp.
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