EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jayron Kearse's first few days in the NFL have allowed him to grow as a player.
A dramatic growth spurt while he was at South Fort Myers High School in Florida helped him garner this opportunity.
"I went into high school and I was about 5-foot-6," Kearse said with a laugh. "By the time I graduated I was about 6-3. It came on quick."
Kearse, a recent seventh-round pick as a safety out of Clemson, is now 6-foot-4 and is one of the three tallest safeties in the NFL. Cincinnati's George Iloka, who played under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer in 2012 and 2013, and New York Giants safety Cooper Taylor, are also 6-4.
Seattle's Kam Chancellor is 6-3; the Seahawks are one of four teams to have a safety that tall.
But look across the league and it is rare to find safeties that stand so tall in the secondary. More than two-thirds of NFL teams (22 of 32) list the tallest safeties on their roster at either 6-1 or 6-2.
If the Vikings didn't have Kearse, they'd be lumped in there because Harrison Smith is the second-tallest Vikings safety at 6-2.
Zimmer said earlier this week that height doesn't necessarily translate into success, it just gives a player more tools to work with.
Chancellor is a four-time Pro Bowler, and Iloka is regarded as one of the better safeties in the NFL. But in 2006 Zimmer also coached 6-5 safety Pat Watkins in Dallas, where he had three interceptions as a rookie. Watkins played four seasons in Dallas and one in San Diego. He has played in the Canadian Football League since 2012 with Toronto (2012-13) and Edmonton.
"I don't know if it helps [Kearse] or hurts him," said Zimmer, who has mostly coached safeties between 5-11 and 6-2. "I like big guys, but Iloka turned to be a pretty good player, Watkins was OK in a lot of situations.
"So far (Kearse has) looked good doing the things we're asking him to do," he added. "You know, I believe length always gives a team an advantage, because they can reach farther, jump higher, and all those things. We always look for length in guys, so hopefully it works out good for him."
The 22-year-old Kearse said his size allows him to blanket receivers and tight ends of all sizes while limiting a quarterback's window to throw passes.
"My range, I can get from one point to the next point quick with my stride length," said Kearse, who also boasts 34 and ¼-inch arms. "I'm a bigger guy when I'm covering guys, so it might be harder for a quarterback to make a perfect throw over somebody my size.
"I move well for my size," Kearse added. "I've been in situations where I've had to stick with a smaller guy and I was able to do that."
The 216-pound Kearse said he was well-aware of the comparisons in size to Iloka and Chancellor, although he said his main focus is learning the playbook he was given a week ago.
"I like the way those guys play the game," Kearse said. "With us being the same body type, I like to watch those guys and pick something up."
Kearse credited Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, along with assistant defensive backs coach Jonathan Gannon, for their advice and guidance at last weekend's rookie minicamp.
"There's a level of expertise on the back end," Kearse said. "Having those guys there, I'm coming along pretty good.
"They don't expect me to get it all just at rookie minicamp … but by the time we get to July and going into training camp, I should have everything down and play fast and move like a veteran."
And now that the rookies have integrated into the Vikings offseason program with the veterans, those with NFL experience are helping Kearse, too.
Kearse said Smith has helped him with his progressions while Michael Griffin, signed as a free agent this offseason, is learning Zimmer's defense with him.
He has even leaned on 37-year-old Cornerback Trae Waynes, who was drafted in 2003 when Kearse was just 9 years old, has also been a resource. The 37-year-old cornerback has played seven of his 13 previous seasons for Zimmer.
"All the veterans have been a big help," Kearse said. "They play the game at a high level and know a lot of things about football."