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Camp Rewind: Vikings Corners Leave Solid Impression

EAGAN, Minn. — We've officially reached September, which means the countdown is on to the Week 1 Border Battle between the Vikings and Packers.

Minnesota has been hard at work in recent weeks at Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as players looked to solidify starting roles and carve out playing time for themselves.

And while they are still practicing this week, those sessions are now closed to the media at the start of team drills.

So let's take a look at where four key positions are at after being able to watch 13 full practices, including one at U.S. Bank Stadium.

We'll start with Minnesota's cornerbacks for the first of four Camp Rewinds.

Pre-camp chatter

The Vikings endured plenty of roster turnover at cornerback, as the veteran trio of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander all departed in the offseason.

Minnesota added three cornerbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft — including first-rounder Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler in the third round — to pair with players such as Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd, who were roster holdovers from a season ago.

As the virtual offseason ended and training camp began, there was no question about the talent of that group.

But there was plenty of chatter about their inexperience. Hughes (20 games and five starts) and Hill (24 games and four starts) offered the entirety of starting NFL experience on the roster. Boyd played in all 16 games as a rookie, but his primary role was on special teams and not in the secondary.

Gladney and Dantzler offered plenty of upside, but many wondered how quickly they could get accustomed to the speed of the NFL, especially with a lack of on-field work in the spring.

Where are they now?

With less than two weeks to go until the 2020 regular season begins, Minnesota's cornerbacks group has been perhaps the biggest surprise of camp … in a good way.

Hughes and Hill have been reliable and consistent, as both have seemingly taken on leadership roles for their position group.

Boyd has been his usual self on special teams and has seemed to develop as a cornerback, too.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the team has been cautious at times with Gladney, who underwent meniscus surgery in the offseason, but he has shown flashes of the skill set that made him a first-round pick.

Dantzler made plays early — including a heady interception on Kirk Cousins — and has used his 6-foot-2 frame to make an impact on the outside.

Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones, who is in his first season in Minnesota, recently said the group has been like "sponges" in how they have absorbed information and learned on the fly in camp.

"The one thing that you can always use to gauge that is the lack of mental errors or mistakes on the field," Jones said. "So things aren't really mental mistakes in terms of blown coverages and things of that nature. It's more so working and focusing on their technique.

"So for me, when I see the mistakes on the field aren't so much Xs and Os but technique, that shows me that these guys have the ability to listen to what's being told to them in the meeting rooms, carry that over to the field and they're grasping the concepts that we're trying to teach to them. That's a huge example," Jones said. "Usually if you have the offseason, you see a lot of mistakes because you don't have that much time to spend on the Xs and Os of the game. But in terms of our installs, in terms of grasping what we're trying to get done schematically, they have a good understanding of that. It's just cleaning up the footwork, technique and eyes."

Standout player

There are a few options to chose from here, but we'll go with Hughes, who was a 2018 first-round pick.

As mentioned above, he has been consistent day-in and day-out at camp, which is a good sign for his progression — and the state of Minnesota's secondary.

If Hughes can be a reliable and steady cornerback every Sunday — along with showcasing his versatility at outside cornerback and also I the slot — the Vikings pass defense could be among the league's top units in 2020.

"He's kind of one of the veterans in the room at that position," Jones said of Hughes. "And so he has the experience from last year, playing inside and outside.

"So for Mike, it was just really cleaning up some things, really honing in on the details of the coverages," Jones added. "It was kind of a smoother transition because he has experience inside and outside, and we're doing the same scheme, so nothing changes for him, so we just wanted him to fine-tune some of the details."