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Training Camp Talkers: New-Look Vikings Secondary Getting on Same Page

EAGAN, Minn. — Depending on how things shake out between veteran Bashaud Breeland and second-year corner Cameron Dantzler, the Vikings could have three new starters in their base secondary.

Harrison Smith remains a constant and showed reasons why during Monday's practice.

What's the safety known for tough tackling and impressive interceptions think about the blend of veterans who have been brought in and young players?

"It's always great to have a good mix of guys — young guys, vet guys, guys that have been around and played in this system or different systems. You can kind of bring a lot to the table, and it's been great working with everyone we have," Smith told Twin Cities media members Wednesday. "But having some vet presences like [Patrick Peterson], like Breeland, like Mackensie [Alexander] coming back … you've kind of been through a little bit more, everybody individually around the league. Collectively, it can help."

Peterson (154 career starts), Breeland (88 of 94 regular-season games played) and Alexander (20 of 68) have been the headliners among free agent additions at cornerback.

Breeland and Dantzler, a second-year pro, are being evaluated for the spot opposite Peterson. Alexander is likely to return to the nickel role in which he progressed before heading to Cincinnati in 2020.

Minnesota added Tye Smith (40 games) and Parry Nickerson (21 games) during free agency as well, giving Minnesota a combined 377 games and 272 starts among those five players and contrasting with 2020 when rostered cornerbacks had a collective 63 games and nine starts as the season opened.

Smith also has welcomed a new starter at safety. After Anthony Harris departed in free agency, the Vikings brought in Xavier Woods, who played his first four seasons at Dallas. Woods has impressed.

"He's a smart player, athletic. He gets to the ball and has a great feel for what offenses are trying to do to us," Smith said. "And we've had great communication. But when he says he's picking my brain, I'm picking his, too. I can learn plenty from him and the success he's had in this league.

"It's been pretty good so far, and we've obviously got a lot of work to do, but anytime you have safeties back there that are communicating well and are kind of on a string together, it really makes the defense operate a lot smoother," Smith added.

Smith said the group is continuing to work on pre-snap signals to make sure everyone is on the same page.

The group will be able to continue to refine communication and coordination this week during practices, including Saturday's scrimmage at U.S. Bank Stadium. Another challenge will be presented next week during a pair of joint practices with the Denver Broncos, who added former Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater this offseason.

The Vikings and Broncos are opening their preseasons on Aug. 14. Click here for tickets to the joint practices and preseason game.

"The chemistry's been pretty good as far as that goes," Smith said. "Obviously you have to stay on top of it day to day, but also as the games start coming around, things get a little more detailed. So we'll have to continue to grow in that area."

Quote of the Day

"Yeah, I sent them a schedule yesterday, I think it was. It'll be similar to what we're doing now. Just see if – I sent them the schedule, see if they want to change anything or do something different. Maybe a little bit longer, but basically a lot of the same kind of things."

— Head Coach Mike Zimmer on the format of the practices with Denver next week; Zimmer also said he plans to add more full-speed work on special teams during Minnesota's second day of padded practices

2 More Points

Here are two other takeaways from Wednesday's media session.

1. 3 starters, 2 spots

The Vikings have loaded up at defensive tackle in the past two offseasons, signing Michael Pierce in 2020 and Dalvin Tomlinson this spring when free agency opened. Pierce's return from opting out a year ago, Tomlinson's arrival and a June signing that brought back Sheldon Richardson has given Minnesota three players who have been proven starters for two spots.

Don't fret.

Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson has a plan to maximize snaps for Richardson.

"He's going to play on base downs. He's going to play a lot on third downs," Patterson said. "So when we go out here at practice, he's getting reps against the 1s, too. And it's not just rolling against the 2s. So I expect him to play a lot. In my mind, I've got two starting 3-techniques between him and 'Big Dalvin.' "

Patterson noted Richardson's previous versatility with the Jets, Seahawks and Browns. He started at the 3-technique alongside Linval Joseph for the Vikings in 2018.

"He's had the experience of rushing in different places. He's had to rush over a tackle. He's had to rush over a guard. He's had to rush over a center," Patterson said. "So that helps him because he feels comfortable rushing in any place we put him on the front. And then that helps us because we can put him in different places, so we can find matchup problems through the course of the season."

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Oct. 23, 2021.

2. Osborn's next step

Second-year receiver K.J. Osborn impressed multiple times during Minnesota's offseason program. It was an opportunity that he and 2020 rookies didn't have a year ago.

He's carried that momentum into U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp.

Zimmer said he's noticed increased confidence out of the player who didn't play an offensive snap during his rookie season.

"Now, he thinks he's pretty good. A year ago, he was kind of feeling his way, didn't catch the ball that great," Zimmer said. "Now he's catching the ball really well. He looks a little faster to me. I think all that is because of his confidence."

The Vikings are evaluating the third receiver position as well as needing to fill the loss of third-year pro Bisi Johnson, who had 45 catches for 483 yards and three scores. Johnson added the ability to play any of the receiver positions in Minnesota's offense.

Zimmer said "K.J. can do that" and added that Dede Westbrook will be able to as well once he is fully back from injury.

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