MANKATO, Minn. —As Vikings safeties line up along the sideline, the crown of Jayron Kearse's helmet stands a good 2 to 4 inches above the tops of teammates.
Andrew Sendejo and Harrison Smith have taken to calling Kearse "The Crane" because of the 6-foot-4 second-year pro's length that can be an advantage at times and disadvantage at others.
"Jayron, the biggest thing he's got to do is be able to drop his hips in space and be able to make open field tackles," said Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "That will be his biggest struggle. I think he knows what to do now.
"He's a good athlete, good range, good size, physical," Zimmer added. "That will be the biggest test for him. Those won't show up probably until the preseason games. You can kind of see a little bit on tape, but if the safeties miss tackles, that's not a good deal."
It's safe to say that the height is uncommon for the position, but Kearse is working on lowering his stature to help with quickness and agility during practices and games while continuing to benefit from his length to close ground on receivers and shrink throwing windows.
"Every snap, every time I'm on the field, I'm reminding myself to get lower," Kearse said. "I can't just say, 'Let me bend down like the normal guy can,' because when he bends down, he's already lower.
"I have to constantly remind myself that I have to get lower and in the position that's comfortable for me to move around and get from here to that point quickly," Kearse said. "It's really a constant work. Coach Zim' reminds me every day."
In addition to Zimmer, defensive backs coach Jerry Gray offers Kearse a reminder, particularly late in practices when fatigue starts to become a factor.
"When I see him late in practice, kind of raising up, I kind of remind him again because I know that's on his mind when he comes out here," Gray said.
"Big guys like that, they're far and few between that are big and athletic and can play," Gray added. "I think if he ever gets to the mindset of Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith and those guys, 'Hey look, I can be a really good player at 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5.' You can do that. Trust me, it's been done before."
Atwater, an eight-time Pro Bowler, and Dennis Smith, a six-time selection for the all-star game, were both listed at 6-3 by pro-football-reference.com.
Kearse is one of five safeties listed at 6-4 out of all 32 teams' rosters, along with George Iloka (60 starts in 67 games with the Bengals), Dexter McCoil (two starts in 16 games with the Chargers) and rookies Josh Harvey-Clemons (Redskins) and Obi Melifonwu (Raiders). Several others, including four-time Pro Bowler Kam Chancellor, whom Gray coached in 2010 when Chancellor was a rookie, are 6-3.
Gray said the Vikings and Seahawks defenses have differences that don't allow for a direct parallel but added that Chancellor's approach is a good example.
"We play a different type of defense, but that's the mindset you've got to have," Gray said. "Can I be the best at what I'm at, ability-wise?' I think once he understands that, he can do that."
Kearse, who made one start (at Chicago) and played in all 16 games last season, primarily on special teams, said he's become much more comfortable with the Vikings defense.
"Once you grasp the small things, the bigger things come right along with it, and being a better technician," Kearse said. "Things like that help you in this defense because this is all about technique. If you do the techniques right, you can put anybody out there, so it's really focusing on getting the guys right."
Kearse has primarily been paired with Anthony Harris and the second-team defense during camp. He said he's appreciated the opportunity to learn from coaches and teammates.
"I'm a much better football player from the time I left college until now for the simple fact of the guys I have coaching me and the older vets on the team helping me," Kearse said. "This experience has definitely been something I needed, and I'm still continuing to grow from it and pick these guys' brains every day."