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NOTEBOOK: Jayron Kearse’s Pickup of Nickel Helps Vikings in Pinch

EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is fond of saying that a team can never have enough cornerbacks.

Or in this case, a safety who can play cornerback.

That’s what Jayron Kearse did in Sunday’s 24-16 win over San Francisco, as injuries forced Minnesota to mix up its secondary and shift Kearse to the nickel spot.

“It’s something we’ve been doing since training camp, just been implementing it and putting different guys in at the slot,” Kearse said Monday. “It just happened that yesterday we got into the situation where we needed to use me in the slot so I was able to go in and do what I had to do to help the team win.”

The Vikings were already without cornerback Mackensie Alexander when cornerback Trae Waynes left the game with an injury midway through the second quarter.

Zimmer then switched Hughes from the nickel to outside cornerback and used Kearse in the slot against the 49ers.

“He’s big and rangy. I know he tipped one ball on a blitz one time. He’s tall and he’s quick,” Zimmer said after Sunday’s win. “He’s really improved a lot from his rookie year to now, I guess this is his third year, of understanding concepts in the defense. So, I think that has helped him.

“Sometimes safeties when they go to nickel, they understand the pattern reads and all those things a little bit better than just a guy coming in from a corner that has never seen all the different combinations,” Zimmer added.

Kearse agreed with Zimmer’s notion that safeties have an easier time going to the slot than an outside cornerback.

“Some of the things we do at safety, we’re dropping down covering tight ends in the slot position. It’s definitely easier for a safety to bump down to the nickel than putting a guy that’s always played outside corner,” Kearse said. “You see things different and things happen quicker.”

Kearse ended up playing 22 of Minnesota’s 66 defensive snaps. The 2016 seventh-round pick might have been on the field for just one-third of the total plays, but his contribution was sizable.

“It was big for me. Yesterday was a big day for me showing that I can be more than just a special teams player,” Kearse said. “Going into year three, it was good for me to show that I can move around and make some plays.”

Solid first impression

Matt Wile and Vikings fans made a solid first impression on each other Sunday.

The punter did his job in his Purple debut, landing four of six punts inside the 20-yard line and had a long of 56 yards. He averaged 38.3 yards per punt. Minnesota allowed just 14 yards on a pair of punt returns.

Wile’s first punt was downed at the 4-yard line by rookie Mike Hughes, who caught Wile’s kick on the fly.

“It was great. I was stoked when they caught the punt,” Wile said. “If you let it bounce, it might not take the best bounce. I was happy we got it down at the 4. They ended up punting and we came back and got a field goal so it worked out well.”

But Vikings fans also left a lasting mark on Wile, who was punting inside U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time ever.

“It’s loud. It’s a very loud stadium,” Wile said. “I was laughing on the sideline because [Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and long snapper Kevin McDermott] were talking and they were [just a few feet away from each other], and I couldn’t hear a word they were saying.

“I could see their lips moving but I couldn’t hear anything,” Wile said. “It’s the loudest stadium I’ve ever been in.”

Collins out for the season

The Vikings on Monday signed offensive lineman Bryan Witzmann and put offensive lineman Aviante Collins on Injured Reserve.

Collins showed up on the injury report with an elbow injury that was suffered in practice last week. He had the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and had worked at both guard and tackle in preseason and training camp.

Zimmer announced in his Monday press conference that Collins will miss the rest of the season.

“A.C. is a good football player, and we’re going to miss him,” Zimmer said. “But we’re going to continue to build depth, we’re going to continue to push.”

The Vikings announced Witzmann’s signing shortly after Zimmer’s press conference.

Collins expressed his feelings on his Instagram account:

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