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State of the Vikings: Defensive Backs

EAGAN, Minn. — It’s rare that a team has the league’s top player at his position on the roster.

That might be the case twice for the Vikings, in safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The versatile Smith was nearly a unanimous First-Team All-Pro in 2017 after leading the team with five interceptions. Rhodes, who routinely shut down opponents’ top receiving options, made two different All-Pro teams. Safety Andrew Sendejo and cornerback Trae Waynes are also back, while veteran Terence Newman returns for his 16th NFL season, nine of which have been with Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

Returning players: CB Mackensie Alexander, S Anthony Harris, S Jayron Kearse, CB Terence Newman, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Horace Richardson, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Marcus Sherels, S Harrison Smith, S Jack Tocho, CB Trae Waynes

New additions: CB Holton Hill, CB Mike Hughes, CB Craig James, CB Trevon Mathis, S Tray Matthews

Stat from 2017: Analytics website Pro Football Focus gave Smith a grade of 98.8 for his performance during the 2017 season. That was the best mark of any player in the NFL, and the highest grade ever given to a safety in the 12 years PFF has been grading players.

From the position room: A strong secondary was a key reason why the Vikings defense ranked first in points allowed (15.8 per game), yards allowed (275.9 per game), and third-down defense (25.2 percent) in 2017.

Behind Smith and Rhodes leading the way as All-Pro selections, Minnesota also finished second in passing defense, as opposing quarterbacks threw for just 192.4 yards per game against the Vikings.

With all four starters from 2017 returning in Smith, Rhodes, Waynes and Sendejo, plus the depth of players such as Newman, Alexander and Harris, Minnesota’s secondary appears primed to have another strong season in 2018.

One area to watch during training camp will be the nickel cornerback, a spot where the Vikings have multiple options. In addition to Newman, third-year man Alexander will vie for playing time, too. And Hughes, a first-round pick in April, was solid in spring practices.

Quotable: “That was a great feeling. Like you said, it’s hard. That’s hard to accomplish in the NFL. And I was able to make it. I was able to make the list, on both [the Pro Bowl and All Pro]. I was honored. I worked, you know, my family and my friends, they always tell me, all my teammates, they say, ‘Zay, you work really hard. We see you each and every day work hard. It’s going to pay off.’ … I’m thankful for it.”

— Rhodes on being named an All-Pro in 2017.

“I think we all are excited as a group. We know what we’ve got to do, areas where we’ve got to get better. We’ve just got to capitalize and work one day at a time, one week at a time, and things will happen for us like we want them to.”

— Alexander on team expectations for 2018.

“I’m still hungry for the opportunity to go out there on special teams, but when my number is called on defense, I’m excited and prepared and feel like I’m ready to go in. Just feeling like I can step into that role, it gives me something to look forward to and really builds up confidence and trust in the guys on the field. I think they’re just as excited to keep the energy we have going on the field.”

— Harris on taking on a bigger defensive role in recent years.

Tickets are still available for 2018 Verizon Vikings Training Camp at the TCO Performance Center for select dates. Click here to access more information.

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