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3 Key Vikings Training Camp Questions: Expectations for Xavier Woods & Development of Younger Safeties?

There is plenty of excitement surrounding the Vikings as the 2021 season approaches.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's squad features a revamped defense, and nearly every key piece from last season's explosive offense has returned.

And with U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp rapidly approaching, what are they key storylines surrounding the team before the dog days of August arrive?

As the countdown to the first open session ticks, we'll provide a position-by-position breakdown of the most important questions surrounding each group, continuing here with the safeties.


U.S. Bank Stadium Practice

Join us for the U.S. Bank Stadium practice on Aug. 7. Fans are encouraged to come early and visit the plaza to enjoy all the activities and excitement of a typical Vikings game day.

What should be expected from Xavier Woods in 2021?

Don't look now, but Woods had a sneaky impressive offseason program as one of the new guys.

The fifth-year player spent the past four seasons with the Cowboys and was added to the roster after Anthony Harris departed in free agency. Woods made quite an impression on his new teammates and coaches this spring.

"I've been really impressed with Xavier," Zimmer said. "He's done a really good job of communicating, he's done an outstanding job of breaking on the football, anticipating throws. All the non-padded things so far, he's been a really, really pleasant surprise. I've been very happy with him.

"When we get in the pads, we'll see how it goes when these guys have to go be physical and tackle and things like that," Zimmer added. "But as far as athletically, he's outstanding. Very smart. He's had chances, if we were going live, for a lot of big plays and collisions the way that he's doing things."

Woods will enter camp as the projected starter next to Harrison Smith.

Woods flashed solid potential in his first few seasons in Dallas, but said upon signing a one-year deal that he wasn't happy with how he played in 2020. If he plays well and connects with Smith, Woods could possibly be in Minnesota in future seasons, too.

"Those two guys working together have done a really good job," Zimmer said.

View photos of S Xavier Woods signing his contract and touring TCO Performance Center.

How do the young players progress?

With Smith and Woods as the starters, the Vikings can bring along some younger players slowly at that position.

And there are a handful of intriguing names to watch on the back end, too.

Rookie Camryn Bynum, a fourth-round pick, has transitioned to safety after playing cornerback in college at California. He spent the spring with the second-team defense and earned praise from Zimmer early on.

"So far he's seemed very brilliant on the field. Understand we don't have a lot in, obviously, but he's been able to understand the concepts," Zimmer said. "It's still going to take some time because he's seeing things from a different perspective now. He was a good tackler in college, so that helps.

"He's a good athlete, [has] good size," Zimmer added. "So far I've been impressed with his athletic ability, but it will take some time for him to learn to be a safety, I think, but we'll see. He's really smart."

With both Smith and Woods only under contract for 2021, Bynum could potentially work himself into a larger role with steady progression as a rookie.

Josh Metellus and Myles Dorn are also names to watch.

Metellus was a solid special teamer as a rookie but certainly missed out on the lack of preseason games in 2021. He should get ample playing time in exhibition games next month.

Dorn was an undrafted free agent a year ago who missed the entire season due to an injury. He may only be a depth player, but he's certainly champing at the bit to get back on the field and show what he can do.

What impact do Karl Scott and Roy Anderson have on the safeties?

The Vikings coaching staff has a bit of a new-look in 2021, as Minnesota has different offensive and special teams coordinators from a season ago.

But the Vikings are also on their third defensive backs coach in as many seasons, as Scott was hired in the offseason after spending the previous three years at the University of Alabama.

"I'm very appreciative of Coach [Nick] Saban allowing me to be a part of that organization," Scott said this offseason. "Definitely things that I'll take from there as far as a structural, organizational standpoint. Really, we don't have enough time to put into words my feelings for that place and my feelings for Coach Saban. But the players, everybody in the organization, was a big part of our success and the opportunity that I have now."

Scott will be assisted by Anderson, who joined the Vikings in 2020 and will focus on the safeties. Anderson was previously with LSU before coming to Minnesota, so both coaches have big-time SEC ties.

The duo will be tasked with helping mold a position group that features players at multiple stages of their careers.

Smith, of course, is a potential Hall of Famer, while Woods is looking to jump-start the next phase of his career. Bynum, Metellus, Dorn and Luther Kirk are looking to grow as quick as they can.

It will be up to Scott and Anderson to get this group ready for the 2021 season and the tough slate of opposing offenses that are on the schedule.

Below is a recap of the positions we've covered up until this point:

We'll wrap up the series with special teams on Friday.

Fans have the opportunity to see the 2021 Vikings in person at U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp later this month when practices at TCO Performance Center will be open to the public. Click here for ticket info about team practices, two joint sessions with the Denver Broncos and a first-of-its kind scrimmage at U.S. Bank Stadium.