MINNEAPOLIS — Anthony Harris is preparing for his fourth season in Mike Zimmer’s defense. George Iloka is glad to be back in scheme (it’s been all of three days) for the first time since Zimmer was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator.
Iloka played for Zimmer in Bengals stripes from 2012-13 before Zimmer was hired by Minnesota. When Cincinnati released Iloka, Minnesota quickly pounced to add another talented player to a loaded defense.
The safeties combined for a pivotal play early in the fourth quarter, helping spark a 21-20 victory over the Seahawks on Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Iloka broke up a deep pass by Alex McGough that was intended for Tanner McEvoy, and Harris corralled the deflection and returned the ball 24 yards to the Seattle 32-yard line.
“The guy was kind of in my zone, so I just broke on the ball, tried to get my hands on it and get it off the tip,” Iloka said. “(Harris) made a good play, did a good job of getting that pick. That was key.”
Harris showed the combination of intelligence and instincts that have helped him when called on in backing up Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo the past three seasons. Once he saw McGough flushed from the pocket and veer to the offense’s right side of the field, he knew the quarterback’s options would be from that half to the middle.
“I know that’s a far throw, running away from pressure to throw back across your body,” Harris said. “I knew it would be tough to throw it to my number one assignment, but he tried to do it anyway, down the middle, and George was able to get a hand in there and tip it up and I was able to get the interception.
“I saw a couple other guys coming in and was just hoping that they didn’t run into me before I could catch it, so as soon as I caught it, I kind of collided with Kentrell [Brothers], but I was able to stay on my feet and run afterwards.”
Harris said Iloka has quickly shown his smarts to his new teammates and his good recall of Zimmer’s system, which Iloka has estimated is about 80 to 85 percent the same as it was in Cincinnati.
“He’s able to pick up some things he ran with Zim’ when he played under him,” Harris said. “He wants to be coached. He’s coming in, asking questions. He’s just trying to gather as much information as possible, put it together with stuff he already knows and go out there and play.”
Iloka said he spent a considerable amount of time meeting with Vikings defensive coaches to get caught up on what’s new.
“They gave me the install and the playbook. At the bottom it said 366 pages. I felt like, ‘Here’s your gun and badge, good luck,’ ” Iloka said. “But the good thing for me, I knew about 80-85 percent of it. Although it was 366 pages, it was maybe like 40. They’ve done a good job of helping me adjust.”
Kyle Sloter led Minnesota’s offense on a touchdown drive after the interception to tie the game at 13.
Seattle bounced back with a 36-yard touchdown pass from McGough to David Moore with 4:10 remaining, but Minnesota countered with a 53-yard drive that featured a 25-yard touchdown pass from Sloter to Chad Beebe and a 2-point conversion pass to Jake Wieneke.
Seattle’s comeback attempt ended when a 55-yard pass from McGough to Caleb Scott was complete after time expired. The play was 2 yards short of the end zone.
Harris had a 12-yard sack during that drive, dropping McGough on a blitz. He enjoyed affecting the quarterback in a different way.
“It’s a lot of fun when you get in there on some of those blitzes and not have to worry about coverage and getting beat deep, giving up big plays,” Harris said.
The Vikings will close their preseason slate at Tennessee on Thursday.