EAGAN, Minn. — A tenet of Mike Zimmer is that a team can never have enough cornerbacks.
That might even ring true for a special situational package this fall, the head coach said Thursday night after the Vikings drafted cornerback Mike Hughes with the 30th overall selection.
Hughes became the third cornerback the Vikings have selected in the first round since 2013.
Xavier Rhodes was drafted that year and has developed into an All-Pro under Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray.
Minnesota tabbed Trae Waynes in 2015, and then the Vikings used a second-round selection on Mackensie Alexander in 2016.
Zimmer was asked if the selection was intended to create competition with Alexander at training camp.
“We’re just trying to get good football players in here and shake it out, and whoever ends up playing plays,” Zimmer said. “I’m not married to anybody, so we just go out and try to get the best players on the field. Quite honestly, in today’s NFL, with as much throwing as is going on, I could see four corners in the game at one time.”
Zimmer said he envisions increased “flexibility” for a defense that ranked No. 1 in yards allowed and points allowed in 2017.
“I’ve always kind of tinkered around with having one safety and four corners, things like that,” Zimmer said. “It’ll give us some flexibility in what we do in some of the nickel packages.”
Asked if there’s a chance that Terence Newman, who is currently a free agent, still returns to the Vikings, Zimmer said, “Yeah, I think there sure is.”
Zimmer said that the nickel corner position in the NFL is a hard “just because of the zone pass-off concepts, the man-within-your-zones concepts that we do, understanding the blitzes and all the different things they have to do. It is more difficult, it’s a little more time consuming. It just happens quicker in there, opposed to the outside.”
Hughes said he doesn’t have a preference where he plays.
“I think I’ll be pretty versatile wherever you guys need me to be,” Hughes said. “I’m just so happy to be a part of the organization. I can’t wait to get to work. However the coach wants to use me, I’m willing to do whatever.”
*Impact on returns a factor: *In addition to playing cornerback for Central Florida, Hughes made an impact in multiple games on special teams. <center>
Spielman said Hughes’ impact on special teams is a “huge part” of his lure to the Vikings.
“We had probably a three-hour meeting on just special teams alone,” Spielman said. “I know our scouts grade these guys not only as players on offense and defense, but they also give them a special teams grade. So we did a lot of group study on this returner as well. With his explosive speed that he shows on tape, and some of the things he was able to do not only as a kickoff returner and punt returner, that also added value to him.”
Fielding interest: Spielman said Tuesday that the Vikings had received four calls from teams who were interested in the 30th pick.
He obviously wanted to wait and see how the board was shaking out before deciding to swap the pick or stay put. The interest continued Thursday.
“We got a lot of calls about maybe five or six picks before us,” Spielman said. “Then, we didn’t get any calls once we were on the clock. But, I don’t know if we would have traded out with what we [feel is] a player of that value at the 30th pick.”
On deck for Friday: Hughes is scheduled to fly to Minnesota from California on Friday and participate in an introductory press conference.
The draft will continue for the Vikings, who are slated to select from the 62nd spot in the second round and the 94th pick in the third round on Friday.
Spielman was asked about remaining depth along the offensive line and said, “I think there is a lot of depth there.”
“I know last year we were able to get Pat [Elflein] in the third round. I know, looking at the board, there is still a lot of quality depth in the offensive line,” Spielman said. “But there is also a lot of quality depth throughout the rest of the draft. So, excited for tomorrow, potentially moving up or potentially moving down. We’ll see how the board starts to fall in the beginning, but I feel very strongly about the depth and some of the players that we like.”