EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings were in a red-zone drill last week when Minnesota’s defense posed a unique look.
The front seven consisted of starters such as Pro Bowlers Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr, but the back end was manned by a quartet of rookies, including safety Marcus Epps.
And when wide receiver Stefon Diggs cut across the middle to snatch a potential touchdown from quarterback Kirk Cousins, it was Epps who was in the perfect position to swat the ball away.
Epps said Tuesday that the play was a bit of a blur to him, as he noted how the speed of the NFL is seemingly light years ahead of the college game.
“Once you get out there, you see the tempo of practice, and it’s just so much faster than college. You have to make sure you’re ready,” Epps said. “[On that play], it was just reacting, honestly. In the red zone, our coaches always tell us that things happen a lot faster.
“It happened really fast, and I just tried to react to make a play. From Day 1 and being with all the vets, it gives you that sense, like, ‘Dang, I’m really here,’ ” Epps added. “But at the end of the day, we’re all football players and professionals, so you have to have that mindset that you can play with anybody.”
View images from the Vikings eighth OTA practice on June 4 at the TCO Performance Center.
Epps has certainly shown that he can hold his own throughout Organized Team Activity practices, as he nearly snagged an interception Tuesday during 1-on-1 drills.
If it seems like Epps has been around the ball a lot this spring, it’s because he has.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said as much last week when he was a guest on KFAN’s 9 to Noon live broadcast from Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center last Wednesday with “Voice of the Vikings” Paul Allen.
Zimmer noted Epps’ versatility in the secondary has helped him get on the field after being a sixth-round pick out of Wyoming in the 2019 NFL Draft.
“The other kid that’s kind of shown up is this Epps kid from Wyoming. He’s been doing a nice job,” Zimmer told Allen. “We’ll have to see when the pads go on, but as far as playing some nickel and some safety, he’s been [good].”
Epps said Tuesday that he couldn’t put a percentage on how often he’s spent time at safety compared to being in the slot this spring.
Each position isn’t new to Epps, as he said the he spent the first three seasons of his college career at safety before moving to nickel cornerback as a senior.
But this is his first time playing both at the same time, meaning he’s doing a bit of a juggling act.
“I haven’t really been keeping track … I just go in wherever my coaches tell me to go in,” Epps said. “It’s been good to be able to get reps at both spots. I’m just trying to get better at each one and prove my worth and show I can get better all over the field.”
“I feel pretty good at both. When I had a position change like last year, I just worked at it and became more comfortable at nickel,” Epps added. “Now it feels like I’m used to it.”
Epps had a quite the journey in college, as he went from walk-on to three-time team captain for Wyoming. He tallied 325 tackles (215 solo), nine interceptions returned for 211 yards and a touchdown, 2.0 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss and 22 passes broken up in four seasons with the Cowboys.
Epps said his biggest focus these days has been mastering Minnesota’s defensive playbook, but he admitted there is a little difference in having to know the ins and outs of two different positions.
“Nickel, you’re playing more underneath coverage, more man. Safety, you’re playing more over the top,” Epps said. “There are certain areas where it’s similar and nickels and safeties end up doing the same thing, but it’s different with some things and similar in others.”
Epps and the rest of his teammates will wrap up OTA practices this week before a trio of mandatory minicamp sessions next week.
He will then prep for his first training camp, where he’ll look to continue to impress at multiple positions in Minnesota’s secondary.
“I feel like I just got here but these last few weeks have flown by. It’s been a good couple weeks, getting used to the playbook and the flow of the game up here,” Epps said. “I feel like I’ve been improving. That’s my goal, to just get better every day.
“You never want to get complacent, especially as a rookie,” Epps added. “You always want to continue to improve each and every day so you can get better and build that trust with your coaches and teammates.”
So far, so good for Epps.