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Monday Morning Mailbag: Depth at CB, Rhodes Bouncing Back, Toughest Games On 2019 Schedule

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We have a very strong defense, but where do you see the weakest link on that side of the ball?
-- Glenn Thoma
Crestview, FL

It's hard to identify an area of weakness on this defense. Even in cases where a starter has been lost, such as Sheldon Richardson at three technique or Andrew Sendejo at safety, the Vikings have been able to add talent to compensate, with Shamar Stephen stepping in for Richardson and Anthony Harris poised to step in for Sendejo as he did in 2018. If anything, I would look at the depth at cornerback as an area to watch because two key reserves – Holton Hill and Mike Hughes – will likely be unavailable early in the season. Hill is suspended for the first four weeks and Hughes continues to rehab from his knee injury. Other than that, though, the defense is stacked for 2019!

What is going to be the biggest problem in protecting Kirk Cousins this year?
-- Thomas Opp

With upgrades to the starting lineup along the offensive line plus an emphasis on improving the running game, the Vikings are poised to take a big step forward in terms of pass protection. Where I can see an issue arising, and the Vikings aren't unique in this way, is if offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski finds himself in a position where he's pass predictable because of the down and distance and he has to put Cousins on a bunch of seven-step drops in a short amount of time. Asking offensive lineman to pass protect in that scenario down in, down out is asking a lot. So long as the Vikings avoid those scenarios, they should be a much improved pass protection team.

Xavier Rhodes is going to face a lot of great wide receivers in 2019. After his down year, will he be ready to face star receivers such as Julio Jones and Amari Cooper?
-- Oteemah Mahyea
Rosemount, MN

First off, I have to point out what it says about our standards for Rhodes that some people are calling 2018 a down year. I know even head coach Mike Zimmer referenced it, but even still, that just means our expectations for No. 29 are sky high. And that's ok. Having said that, yes, I do believe Rhodes is going to be ready to face the elite receivers coming his way in 2019. I paid special attention to watching Rhodes at points during the offseason program as he battled Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and I really liked what I saw in terms of Rhodes having some pep in his step and carrying a competitive chip on his shoulder during one-on-one drills and team drills. I expect big things from Rhodes this season.

Does Marcus Epps have a chance of making the 53-man roster or even possibly getting some snaps in 2019? As a guy from Wyoming, I would love to see this kid make my favorite NFL team better. Go Pokes and Skol Vikings!
Corey Davis
Rawlins, WY

Yes, he does. Epps was a standout right away and even drew some public praise from coach Zimmer. Don't be surprised if Epps trains at both safety and nickel, too, which tells you how the coaches feel about him and gives him some versatility/position flexibility, which is always good for a youngster trying to make the team. Also, as is the case for so many young players, Epps would be wise to pour as much as he can into finding a role or two on special teams.

Which games this upcoming season do you think will be the most difficult and why?
-- Jacob Vang
Brooklyn Park, MN

In my first 14 seasons working for the Vikings, I can't recall one time walking into a stadium thinking that week's game was going to be an easy one. So that always makes answering this question difficult because you don't want to disrespect any teams by leaving them out of this conversation. Having said that, I immediately look at the December schedule and have to point out the fact that the Vikings have two west coast night games in the span of three weeks – at Seattle on December 2 and at the Los Angeles Chargers on December 15. So that Chargers game has to be circled as a tough one. Also, given that the Chicago Bears are the defending division champions and that there's no reason to expect a step back from them, the Week 17 game at U.S. Bank Stadium against them may not be an easy one, either.