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Young Vikings Cornerbacks Show Promising Signs at Camp

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings don't have a single cornerback on their roster over 23 years old, which helps explain why the position group has made just nine combined NFL starts.

Yet even though that position is among the youngest on the team, Minnesota's cornerbacks group has been a bright spot throughout Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

With the Vikings now through two weeks of padded practices, plenty of players have stood out to impress coaches and teammates.

Among them? Vikings starting quarterback Kirk Cousins.

"The entire defensive backfield, I think, has played really well. I think it's been tight coverage," Cousins said. "We've tried different route depths, we've tried double moves, and I think they've just had good discipline and been really sticky in covering our receivers and our tight ends, so that's certainly encouraging to see for the long haul during the season."

The cornerbacks group underwent the most turnover of any position on the roster in the offseason, but the opportunity is there for young players to step up.

View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Here is a closer look at the position a little more than two weeks out from the start of the 2020 season:

Mike Hughes

Hughes has been bitten by the injury bug during his first two seasons, whether it was a torn ACL as a rookie in 2018, or a neck injury that caused him to miss the postseason last January.

But the 2018 first-round pick is healthy now, and ready to take his game up a notch.

"That's what I want to reach this year – tap into some new levels I feel like I couldn't get to because of injuries holding me back a little bit," he said. "I'm coming into this year 100-percent confident in my body and how I feel and the work I've put into this offseason."

Hughes offers perhaps the most versatility of any Vikings cornerback, as he can play both outside and in the slot in nickel situations.

But no matter where Hughes lines up in 2020, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has big expectations for the 23-year-old.

View the top photos of Vikings CB Mike Hughes from the 2019 season.

"Mike is a very talented kid," Zimmer said. "He needs to continue to have more confidence in himself. He needs to have more belief that when he goes out there, he can cover anybody.

"I think that's the biggest thing with Mike," Zimmer added. "If Mike will just say, 'Hey, I got this guy, it's me – let's go, you and me.' I think that part will help him mature faster and be a better player quicker."

Hughes has two career interceptions — one of which was returned for a score — in 20 career games, five of which have been starts. He has also tallied three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 12 passes defensed and a pair of tackles for loss.

Holton Hill

Like Hughes, Hill also joined the Vikings in the spring of 2018, but the former University of Texas standout was an undrafted free agent.

He has appeared in 24 career games — the most of any Vikings cornerback — but also missed half of the 2019 season due to a pair of four-game suspensions.

With clear playing time and starting spots up for grabs, however, Hill has been locked in during camp and has made plays on a routine basis.

Zimmer has noticed Hill's maturity level go up, too.

"He's done a good job. He's come back, seems to be a lot more mature this year. A lot more business-like," Zimmer said. "I told him the other day, his deal is that he has to prove he can be the same guy every day. So come out there, I don't have to correct you on this and then next day correct you on that again. Once we get it corrected, let's move on so we can correct the next thing. He's done a pretty good job of that so far.

"Holton has great size, really good athleticism. He can run, has long arms and is a physical kid," Zimmer added. "He has all the attributes you need at corner. Hopefully he'll continue to progress each and every day."

Hill has one career interception and eight passes defensed, along with a fumble recovery.

"Going into year three, my confidence is pretty high, just from all of the work that I put in in the offseason, the preparation that I was putting in and am continuing to put in," Hill said. "I'm just trying to keep doing it each day and just get better each and every day."

Hill will have the chance to be a major contributor in 2020 if he continues to play like he has in the first two weeks of camp.

Kris Boyd

Boyd was a special teams standout in his rookie season, as he led Minnesota in tackles in the third phase of the game.

Boyd played 96 total defensive snaps in 2019, 32 of which came in Weeks 1 and 3 when the Vikings earned big wins over the Falcons and Raiders, respectively.

But like a lot of young faces on the roster, Boyd played extensively (49 defensive snaps) in Week 17 against the Bears.

Boyd is likely to be a strong contributor once again on special teams, but could also carve out a role for himself as a depth cornerback on the roster.

He explained earlier in camp about how he's focused on earning more playing time on that side of the ball in 2020.

"It's a great opportunity, and right now, I'm just going out there, getting better day by day and taking advantage of everything that's given to me," Boyd said. "Everybody's out there competing. I love seeing everybody out there going at it and getting better and paying attention to the details.

"I would say handling your business. When I say handling your business, that means within yourself, your technique and the things you have to do and apply every day. If you're not sharpening your technique or tools you need to go out there, then you won't have the confidence you need," Boyd later added. "But if you're studying, knowing the plays, knowing you're working on your technique and knowing the fundamentals you're going to have to do, then the confidence will be there. It's just how you apply it."

Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer said Boyd is among the team's most willing participants to play anywhere on the field, especially on special teams.

And with camp well underway, Adam Zimmer noted that Boyd has put the work in to help out on defense this season.

"I like Kris a lot. I think he has a good mental attitude toward it. He works really hard at it," Adam Zimmer said. "You can give him one thing to do, and he'll work on it nonstop. He did that at the end of the year. He played great on special teams for us, and he's just going to hone in on the little details of the position and keep improving his technique.

"But I like his mental makeup, I think he's a competitor, and I think he wants to be great," he continued. "He's going to do everything he can to be in the mix for us."

Jeff Gladney

The Vikings had a pair of first-round picks, and used their second one on cornerback Jeff Gladney.

The former TCU standout offers similar versatility that Hughes does in that he can play both outside and inside, but he is also a rookie trying to learn Mike Zimmer's complex defense.

Gladney recently offered up his take on how his first few weeks on the practice field went.

"It's been great, just getting back in the swing of things, getting in the playbook. It's going really well," Gladney said. "I've been working both [outside and in the slot], but I'll leave that up to Coach Zim'. He's going to put the right pieces where he wants them."

Gladney has received plenty of quality reps in camp, but the Vikings have been careful with his workload since he underwent meniscus surgery this spring. He missed one non-padded practice in the early stages of camp.

"It just flared up on him a little bit. He probably took too many reps the first day, so we just have to try to ease him back him a little bit as we go," Mike Zimmer said. "Sometimes when those guys have surgery in the offseason in a situation like this, their rehab wasn't as good as it could be. He's going to be fine, though. There's no real issues there."

Gladney's role in 2020 could range from starter to rotational player, and he'll prepare equally for whatever role.

Cameron Dantzler

The second of three total cornerbacks drafted by Minnesota in the 2020 NFL Draft — along with Gladney and Harrison Hand — Dantzler has been the standout among all rookies in camp.

He made splash plays on back-to-back days the first week of camp, deflecting away a deep pass to Adam Thielen before getting an interception on Kirk Cousins the following day.

As camp evolves, the 6-foot-2 Dantzler is working with coaches to focus on consistency day-in and day-out.

"That's exciting," [Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre] Patterson said of Dantzler's early showings in camp. "Now the key is, 'Can you keep doing it? Can you be consistent?' All of those young corners are working hard and they've all got talent.

"The key now is, 'Can they do it play after play after play?' That's the key in the NFL, to have consistency," Patterson added. "That's what we're working on now, to make sure they're consistent and can do that kind of thing rep after rep."

Dantzler starred at Mississippi State and was a third-round pick. He likely would have gone higher if not for a poor time in the 40-yard dash at the combine, but the Vikings like his blend of coverage, smarts and athleticism so far in camp.

He could earn a starting job over the final week of camp, but will likely play a key role in the 2020 season as Minnesota undergoes a wholesale transformation at cornerback.

"I absolutely feel comfortable," Dantzler said in advance of his rookie season because of the quality of work he's getting against Vikings receivers and Cousins.

"I'm looking forward to facing these quarterbacks [on the docket … I really haven't looked at the schedule since it's been out," Dantzler added. "I've been focusing on my craft and just doing what I need to do to help the team out."