Confident secondary has big test

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2011 - 11:55 AM

In Philip Rivers and Co., the Chargers boast a prolific offense. But the Vikings defensive backs promise they'll be up to the challenge.

Chris Cook wasn't familiar with NFL power rankings. So when a teammate recently told him about a Week 1 ranking that gave the Vikings very little credit, his first reaction was, "What's that?"

Which soon became: "What's this?"

"Everybody is sleeping on us," the Vikings cornerback said. "Apparently we're 26th and [San Diego] is No. 3. I was like, 'Whatever.'"

There was a smile, a bit of an eye roll. Perhaps a suggestion: Wait until Sunday.

What's that line about being careful what you wish for? The Vikings open the season at San Diego, consensus favorite to win the AFC West and owners of one of the most potent passing attacks in the NFL last season.

Philip Rivers is coming off a season in which he was second in the league in passer rating (101.8), first with 4,710 passing yards and fifth with 30 TD passes.

And the receiving corps is filled with guys who dwarf their competition. Vincent Jackson, back after a 2010 season marred by his holdout, is 6-5. So is Malcom Floyd. Antonio Gates is a dominant tight end at 6-4. And the running back combination of Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert looks to be formidable.

"[The Chargers] are a challenge for any defense, let alone coming off what we're coming off from a health standpoint," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "Terrific receivers, terrific quarterback. No. 1 offense from a year ago. We'll find out where we are, early on.''

The Chargers have an aggressive style, a smart, quick-thinking quarterback and all sorts of weapons to which to throw. The Vikings, meanwhile, have two cornerbacks coming off knee injuries in Cedric Griffin and Cook, and continuing questions at safety.

"They're explosive," said veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, generously listed at 5-9. "All their receivers are 6-4 or better. ... I'm sure we'll be up to it."

Of course, that has to be the belief. But, at the very least, it is a heck of a difficult start for a secondary still coming together.

Winfield and Griffin -- who is coming back from a second torn anterior cruciate ligament that limited him to two games last season -- are the starting cornerbacks. Cook, the nickel back, sustained torn cartilage in both knees that limited him to six up-and-down games as a rookie last season. Even Frazier said the coaches were waiting to see exactly what they have, even though Frazier knows the potential of the group, referencing the one game last year -- a home victory over Detroit -- in which all three were on the field together.

Neither Griffin nor Cook -- who nursed a sore hamstring in camp -- saw extensive action in the preseason. At strong safety, Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson went through camp battling for the starting job before Sanford emerged by a nose.

The Vikings, reacting to injuries all season, finished 22nd in pass defense in 2010. Now their top three corners are healthy for the opener, but have they had enough time together?

"I talk to Antoine all the time about that," said Cook, who plays outside with Winfield moving into the slot in nickel situations. "We can go out and be the best three [cornerbacks] in the league if we all do what we can do."

Given the San Diego approach, the Vikings could be forced into some sets with six defensive backs. In that case, Marcus Sherels likely would be the final extra back, lining up in the slot. At the very least, the Vikings figure to be in nickel better than half the time.

One thing is for sure. The team will know a lot more about its defensive backs after this game.

  • VIKINGS WEEK 1

    3:15 p.m. Sunday at San Diego TV: Ch. 9 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

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Philadelphia - WP: R. Hernandez 2 FINAL
Washington - LP: D. Fister 1
Seattle - LP: R. Elias 1 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: W. Chen 2
Texas - LP: J. Williams 2 FINAL
Cleveland - WP: D. Salazar 12
Colorado - LP: F. Morales 2 FINAL
Detroit - WP: J. Verlander 4
Cincinnati - WP: M. Latos 5 FINAL
Miami - LP: J. Cosart 2
San Francisco - WP: R. Vogelsong 5 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 1
LA Angels - WP: M. Shoemaker 5 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: J. Hellickson 3
NY Yankees - LP: C. Capuano 3 FINAL
Boston - WP: A. Ranaudo 4
Minnesota - LP: C. Fien 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Guerra 10
Toronto - LP: A. Loup 1 FINAL
Houston - WP: J. Veras 3
Milwaukee - WP: W. Peralta 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 4
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 1 FINAL
Oakland - LP: S. Gray 0
Pittsburgh - WP: T. Watson 9 FINAL
Arizona - LP: B. Schultz 4
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: E. Stults 10
Chicago Cubs - WP: K. Hendricks 8 FINAL
Los Angeles - LP: D. Haren 2
NY Giants 8/3/14 7:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/7/14 6:00 PM
NY Jets
San Francisco 8/7/14 6:30 PM
Baltimore
New England 8/7/14 6:30 PM
Washington
Cincinnati 8/7/14 7:00 PM
Kansas City
Seattle 8/7/14 8:00 PM
Denver
Dallas 8/7/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Sporting Kansas City 1
Winnipeg 27 FINAL
Hamilton 26
Toronto 31 FINAL
Montreal 5
Brt Columbia 25 FINAL
Calgary 24
Saskatchewan 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 8/7/14 7:30 PM
Winnipeg
Edmonton 8/8/14 6:00 PM
Montreal
Hamilton 8/8/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Ottawa 8/9/14 6:30 PM
Calgary
Winnipeg 8/12/14 6:30 PM
Toronto
Connecticut 89 FINAL
San Antonio 79
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pm
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pm
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pm
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pm
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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