EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings defensive backs plan to counter size discrepancies with aggressive coverage of big Buccaneers receivers this week.
Tampa Bay's top two receiving targets — veteran Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans — each stand at 6-foot-5, as do tight ends Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Luke Stocker.
At 6-1, Xavier Rhodes is Minnesota's tallest cornerback, and Harrison Smith (6-2) is the tallest safety on the squad. CB Josh Robinson (5-10) said the biggest thing in taking on the challenge of bigger players is to "be aggressive and compete, and then you can make plays."
"Get your hands on them, try to aggravate them, be physical with them and you can get your hand in there on some balls," Robinson said.
The Vikings (2-5) visit the Buccaneers (1-5) at noon (CT) Sunday.
Jackson has 25 catches for 344 yards with two touchdowns this season. Evans, who is often compared to Jackson, has 21 receptions for 258 yards and two scores.
Rhodes said both receivers know how to use their bodies to box out defenders.
"They're able to separate the defender from the ball using their bodies and they have strong hands, so once the ball touches their hands, they'll probably catch it, so we've got to separate them from the ball," Rhodes said.
The tallest Vikings receivers — Cordarrelle Patterson, Charles Johnson and Adam Thielen — are 6-2. Patterson said part of his position group's work this week involves helping Vikings defenders in one-on-one matchups and "giving our defense a good look to see how Tampa Bay is going to play against them and not giving it to them easy."
FROM TAMPA 2 DALLAS: Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier have long used the Tampa 2 defense, but the coverage that draws its name from its implementation by the Buccaneers more than 20 years ago also made an appearance in Dallas.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, DBs coach of the Cowboys from 1994-99 and defensive coordinator in "Big D" from 2000-06, said Thursday that he remembered using it to varying degrees in Dallas.
"When I was in Dallas, we copied the Tampa 2," Zimmer said. "I remember studying John Lynch and Warren Sapp and Ronde Barber and all the guys they had. Derrick Brooks. We ran it for a couple of years. It might have been after my first year as a coordinator, we went to it almost exclusively. I can remember playing them when I was in Dallas, and John Lynch was telling them they're running our defense."
Zimmer said thinks the use of offensive and defensive schemes "is evolving all the time in the NFL, and things come back."
"It's very cyclical that things happen in football in general. It used to be the wishbone, now it's the zone read. Everything just kind of evolves," Zimmer said. "There was a long time when I was in Dallas, where we played basically one coverage the entire time, and it caught up to us and we had to adjust. They've adjusted. They're not doing the exact same thing every play, and obviously, neither are we. Coaches find ways to attack different things, but I don't think the defense is obsolete or anything like that. We still use it — not like it's every single play. I think if you did it every single play, they'd figure it out."
NON-STAT METRICS: Zimmer was asked if there are certain statistics he highlights to evaluate the quarterback position. He said his focus when reviewing rookie Teddy Bridgewater is more situational than statistical.
"The thing I kind of look at is how is he doing when he has a fairly clean pocket, and then how is he doing against the pressure situations," Zimmer said. "There's so many other things: how does he handle checks of getting guys where they are (supposed to be)."
PARTICIPATION: Kyle Rudolph (abdomen) and Antone Exum Jr. (ankle) did not participate in Thursday's practice. Gerald Hodges (hamstring), John Sullivan (concussion), Shariff Floyd (ankle), Jabari Price (hamstring) and Josh Robinson (ankle) were limited. Corey Wootton (back), Vladimir Ducasse (knee), Harrison Smith (ankle) and Chase Ford (foot) fully participated.
For Tampa Bay: LB Brandon Magee (knee) did not participate. LB Jonathan Casillas (hamstring), T Anthony Collins (knee), S Dashon Goldson (ankle), WR Vincent Jackson (rib), Josh McCown (QB), and S Keith Tandy (hamstring) were limited. CB Johnthan Banks (neck) fully participated.
WEATHER: The temperature at the start of practice was 57 degrees Fahrenheit with slight winds and a cloudless, sun-soaked sky.