Cam Bynum was nearly 8,000 miles away from the Vikings practice facility this offseason, but the only thing on his mind was football.
Every day, the Vikings third-year defender woke up in his mother's home country of the Philippines determined to become a better safety. Which meant honing his footwork, strength and tackling to better defend bruising running backs and playmaking tight ends.
"I was in the Philippines, and I was training a lot of football players out there. I basically had a scout team around me," Bynum said. "I would set [defenders] 20 yards away from me and tell them that they had 'from this space to this space to make a move and try and score,' " Bynum said. "So that was me working open-field tackling. Then I'd teach them tackling, and some of them even taught me because they played rugby."
Connecting with his heritage has been important to Bynum. That's why he draped himself in the Filipino flag after making an interception in a victory over the Jets last year.
That same mindset is why Bynum trained in the Philippines for nearly six months following the 2022 season. He spent the summer hosting a football camp in his mother's native country. Bynum brought his family, some friends, and trainer with him to the Philippines, where his wife Lalaine was already living.
Bynum parlayed his time exploring his heritage with teaching football and improving his techniques.
"I was able to get thousands of [form-tackling] reps in the Philippines," Bynum said. "I was doing everything but merging it into football. I would still do football stuff but train in other ways, too. [Asking] how can this relate to football?"
His training consisted of more than just football and rugby. While away, Bynum cross-trained with weights, boxing trainers and ballet coaches. All with the mission of returning to Minnesota and taking the next steps as an NFL safety.
As a part of "National Tight Ends Day" — the light-hearted October observance created in San Francisco somewhat in jest in 2018 — Bynum shared what it is like defending some of the league's best at the position. Bynum said the position's evolution pushed him to perfect his tackling, hone his coverage flexibility and maximize his overall endurance.
View photos of Cam Bynum and his family cooking their favorite foods from the Philippines.
Always on the Field
Bynum, 25, entered this season as a third-year safety coming off a 1,000-plus snap sophomore campaign. He played every defensive snap for the 2022 Vikings, despite switching to safety as a rookie. But he needed more training to keep up with the rigors of an NFL season. Thus, a network of athletes helped Bynum refine his tackling.
Through six games, Bynum is in a system where he rarely comes off the field, along with fellow safeties Harrison Smith and Josh Metellus. Bynum leads the team in defensive snaps played with 414 out of a possible 415. The trio has been a key part of the approach by new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores in his system.
"Part of the scheme is the freedom," Bynum said. "It's always your dream as a [defensive back] to have more DBs on the field. So, for us to actually run it and run it consistently is fun because we are able to put the game in our hands."
Early in the Vikings Week 5 game against the Chiefs, Bynum defended one of the game's best pass catchers.
Tight end Travis Kelce released on a wheel route up the right sideline at U.S. Bank Stadium. Already an All-Decade honoree, Kelce has shaken and climbed defenders for 72 touchdowns over his 11-season career.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes lofted a ball to the front-right pylon, high and inside for Kelce. The 6-foot-5 Kelce high-pointed the ball with both hands and nearly scored. But Bynum tracked the throw, drove on it, and wedged his right arm between Kelce's hands to knock the pass away.
One-on-one with a future Hall of Famer, and Bynum won the matchup.
As Flores has implemented multiple looks, Bynum's versatility has shown up at different spots and with multiple responsibilities.
Through six weeks, Bynum has aligned as a deep free safety, as a slot defender and in the box.
Moving around the field helps Flores combat schemes with tight ends like Kelce or San Francisco's George Kittle.
But for Bynum to maximize his ability, he realized he needed to take his tackling to another level, considering how large tight ends and running backs are compared to most receivers.
"[Playing] cornerback my whole life, getting into the NFL and getting switched to safety, tackles are completely different. Different angles coming from the inside out. Your entry angles for tackles are way different," Bynum said. "It's just different because you're coming outside in, and [cornerback] is easier because you just have to not let them outside. [At safety] down here, there is a two-way go, and you're in the open field, so I had to transform the way I tackle."
His offseason program is paying off, helping Bynum on a team-high 60 tackles.
Against the 49ers, he'll have another chance to put his offseason dedication to work. Whether racing toward the line of scrimmage to tackle star running back Christian McCaffrey or locating Kittle downfield in coverage, Bynum will often be at the point of attack.