It’s just one week. But Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was comforted by what he saw out of starting safeties Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond in Sunday’s win over Jacksonville. Smith, of course, was making his first NFL start. Raymond made his sixth.
The quick synopsis of their initial outing together: solid but not spectacular. And it gives Frazier confidence that the defense can make big strides forward soon.
Frazier has been effusive in his praise of Smith, who moved around well Sunday, was consistently in the right spots and “played with a lot of poise.”
Raymond also had a pass break-up and seemed to gain confidence the more aggressively he played.
“There are going to be some moments where [our young safeties] may not be as aggressive as you would like for them to be because so many of the things they’re doing are for the very first time,” Frazier said. “You have to understand that and let them continue to grow and mature at their position. But they both have shown that they are going to be very, very good players.”
The Vikings defense has often been referred to as a Cover 2 system. But they didn’t rely exclusively on Cover 2 against the Jaguars and will always lean toward mixing things up when they have the personnel to do so.
“In reality, even when people have described us as a [Cover] 2 team, when we have had the personnel that will allow us to be a little bit more than 2, when we were playing our best defense, we were not a heavy Cover 2 team,” Frazier said. “And our personnel is getting back to where we need it to be. The last couple of years, we’ve struggled on the back end from a personnel standpoint. But we’re getting to where we need to be so we can mix it up a little bit more and not be as predictable as we had become.”
Frazier also took a stab at explaining what went wrong on the 39-yard Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in regulation Sunday, a blow that put the Vikings behind 23-20. Chris Cook was left alone in one-on-one coverage against Shorts with no safety help.
“We were in a three-deep coverage,” Frazier said. “And what you want to be able to do in three deep, you never want to let anyone get behind you. That’s what you’re always preaching in three deep. And we probably could have done some things to help Chris in that situation that we could have done a little bit different or a little bit better. But the ultimate goal in three deep is not to let anyone ever get behind you. That’s the premise of the coverage.”
Bottom line: the internal explanation of that malfunction is that Cook erred first in letting Shorts get behind him and then in twisting the wrong way as Gabbert’s throw arrived.
Other updates from this morning ...
- Frazier is hesitant to estimate the number of carries Adrian Peterson will get Sunday in Indianapolis. But it's easy to see the Vikings are blown away by how active Peterson is and how far he's come in his recovery from reconstructive knee surgery. Asked if Peterson is close to 2011 form, Frazier said: "I think he's pretty close. But we have so much football to be played and he needs to get a little more work under his belt to really gauge that. But man, where he is right now coming off of surgery, I don't think there's any team that would turn down having him as their running back, their featured back. He may not be quite where he was prior to the injury. But he's pretty, pretty close."
- Frazier said the Vikings want to get tight end John Carlson more action this weekend in Indianapolis. The Vikings coach also singled out receiver Devin Aromashodu for his three clutch catches in the fourth quarter and overtime, all of which led to Blair Walsh field goals. "Really encouraged by his play," Frazier said. "And we're going to need that obviously with the attention Percy [Harvin] draws."
- Frazier said the Vikings used fullback Jerome Felton extensively against the Jaguars because Felton was having a terrific game and instilling confidence that the offense could function better with him on the field.