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Zimmer Continuing Evaluation of Safeties Beyond Harrison Smith

MANKATO, Minn. — Players had Tuesday off; Vikings coaches and the personnel department had the day to reflect.

The first break in the action since everyone reported to Minnesota State University, Mankato allowed film review and discussions of four practices, including two in full pads.

Harrison Smith's name can be painted in at one safety slot. He spoke on Monday about how much he enjoys his varied job duties in Head Coach Mike Zimmer's system before joining Zimmer at the groundbreaking for Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, which is scheduled to become the Vikings future headquarters in March 2018.

Zimmer discussed the other safety position with beat writers on Monday evening.

The Vikings have returned Andrew Sendejo, who started all 13 games he played in 2015 and finished second on the team with 100 tackles tallied by coaches, as well as 2014 sixth-round draft pick Antone Exum, Jr. and 2015 undrafted free agent Anthony Harris.

Minnesota also signed Michael Griffin, who racked up 25 interceptions in nine seasons in Tennessee, where he had Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray as his defensive coordinator from 2011-13, and drafted Jayron Kearse in the seventh round this April.

"We're looking at Sendejo and Griffin, mixing them in a little bit, only because I don't know Griffin as good as I need to, and that's kind of what I told him," Zimmer said. "I've just got to see him do some things where I'm able to evaluate him better, so that's it.

"I know what Sendejo is, and I think I've got a pretty good idea of Exum, so Griffin and Kearse, I've got to continue to see more," Zimmer added. "I've got to see [Harris] more, too."

Zimmer said the evaluation could go beyond the start of preseason games. Minnesota is scheduled to begin its exhibition slate at Cincinnati on Aug. 12.

As much of a certainty as Smith is, Griffin was just the same in Tennessee. The first-round pick in 2007 became a starter that season and missed just three games over the course of nine seasons. He averaged more than 100 tackles per year and made two Pro Bowls.

Now, Griffin is embracing the opportunity to compete.

"These safeties are real good safeties. There's some guys that you haven't heard of, and some guys that come in and realize they're real good guys with great coaching," Griffin said. "With that being said, it's come out and do your job. That's all we can do, compete. There's competition but there's no grudges.

"We stay out after practice and throw the ball, me, Sendejo, Antone Exum," Griffin continued. "If somebody asks me a question, I give them advice to try to prepare them prior to when the ball is snapped. That's just where we're at. We're not out here trying to keep secrets. We're out here competing each and every day, and that's what good teams do."

He said Gray is a "great guy, very hands-on, a guy that played the game and a guy that did very well when he did play the game, so I can't do nothing but respect a guy that's played this game and done very well."

It has been a transition, but Griffin knows playing nine seasons for one team is more of an exception than the rule.

"It's funny, because Xavier Rhodes always talks about and laughs at me because everything I say is, 'Back at Tennessee,' but I tell them that's all I know," Griffin said. "It was a blessing in disguise, in the fact of being with one team for nine years.

"Not many people do that, you're talking about Chad Greenway, Brian Robison, this is not the normal," Griffin continued. "At the end of the day, this is another opportunity for me to have a chance here, and Coach Gray and Coach Zimmer are giving me a chance to come here and compete, and that's all you can ask for."

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