Inexperienced cornerbacks could hold key to Vikings defense

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2013 - 6:15 PM

An inexperienced group of cornerbacks might hold the key to defensive success.


Josh Robinson, left, steps in as the slot cornerback in nickel coverage; Chris Cook, center, hopes to prove durable enough to play an entire season; and rookie Xavier Rhodes must adapt quickly to the NFL.


CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

In the final week of training camp, Vikings secondary coach Joe Woods came off the practice fields at Minnesota State Mankato and couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. ¶ So many questions about his defensive backs loomed. Yet so few seemed to fluster the assistant in charge of finding answers. ¶ Woods remains convinced that his current stable of cornerbacks is on the verge of a growth spurt, and there’s no way you can talk him out of it.

Sure, the top trio of Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes has a combined 24 NFL starts with two career interceptions. And yes, the Vikings open the season on the road the first two weeks against what might be the NFC’s top two receivers — Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall.

Still, Woods won’t admit an ounce of apprehension for the potential hazards ahead.

“It doesn’t bother me a bit, man,” he said. “When you teach guys and coach them up and you know they understand everything they’re supposed to do, why am I going to worry? For me, it’s more, ‘Hey, I want to see what they’ve got.’ ”

With the regular season arriving, Woods said he believes his cornerbacks have a blend of eagerness and resilience that will help offset their inexperience.

“I have a smart group. I have a tough group. I have a disciplined group,” Woods said. “And through my experience, when you have those qualities, you know the improvement is right behind. You can see a togetherness. It’s a tight group. And there’s energy there. All of them want to be the next Antoine Winfield.”

Oh, yeah. About that …

After nine seasons in Minnesota, the Vikings cut Winfield in March and failed to re-sign him at a discount. So now, the three-time Pro Bowler, the intuitive slot corner who had long provided the secondary with stability, savvy and swagger, is in Seattle. And that’s created a gaping hole that this current group of corners must fill. In a pass-happy division. And at a position where a 95 percent success rate quickly can be overshadowed by one or two game-changing mistakes.

For all the questions facing the defense, none presents more uncertainty than the cornerback situation.

Cook, 26 and the oldest corner on the roster, has missed 26 games over his first three seasons. His next big step doesn’t only involve becoming more consistent outside, it involves staying available for a full season.

“We need someone to take on that role as a leader that Antoine had,” Cook said. “That can be me. And it means I’ll have to help guys keep their focus and keep their confidence, even when receivers make a few plays.”

Meanwhile, Robinson, 22, has taken on a new role as the slot corner in nickel packages, a position he never played nor studied much before May. Which means he still is learning all about run fits while sharpening the feel it takes to play inside where defensive back coverage responsibilities must be combined with a linebacker’s vision to defend the run.

And Rhodes, 23, remains a rookie. A tall, physical and confident rookie, for sure. But still, there’s no telling how quickly he’ll adapt to NFL speed.

“I’ve never played on this level, never played against this talent,” Rhodes said. “It’s a great opportunity, and I can’t wait to get out there. But there’s no question that the tempo, even in practices, is much, much faster.”

Over the past two seasons, the Vikings secondary has collected only 15 interceptions, with the defense allowing 62 TD passes in the same span. It’s an eye-opening discrepancy that needs fixing. And it’s also worth noting that the Vikings will play 10 games in which they face a quarterback and/or receiver voted into last year’s Pro Bowl.

The margin for error will be thin. And the depth at cornerback might be even thinner. Yet after a long stretch of preparation — from OTAs to minicamp to training camp — Woods knows his players must face their next test.

“Eventually,” he said, “you need to let them on the field and let them do what they do.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Atlanta 2 Top 6th Inning
Detroit 1
Philadelphia 1 Top 6th Inning
Houston 4
St. Louis 4 Top 8th Inning
Miami 0
Baltimore 0 Top 7th Inning
Tampa Bay 0
NY Yankees 1 Bottom 6th Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Chicago Cubs 2:05 PM
San Francisco
Los Angeles 2:05 PM
Chicago WSox
San Diego 2:05 PM
Cleveland 2:05 PM
Milwaukee 2:05 PM
LA Angels
Oakland 2:05 PM
Chicago Cubs
Texas 2:05 PM
Kansas City
Colorado 2:10 PM
NY Mets 4:05 PM
Boston 6:05 PM
Toronto 6:05 PM
Oklahoma City 7:00 PM
Dallas 9:30 PM
Calgary 6:00 PM
St. Louis 6:00 PM
Minnesota 6:00 PM
Toronto 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Dallas 6:30 PM
NY Islanders 7:00 PM
Vancouver 8:00 PM
Montreal 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Morgan State 3:00 PM
MD-Eastern Shore
Niagara 4:00 PM
Holy Cross 6:00 PM
Western Ky 6:00 PM
Navy 6:00 PM
Temple 6:00 PM
East Carolina
UAB 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
American Univ 6:00 PM
Wisconsin 6:00 PM
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Saint Peters
Arkansas 6:00 PM
South Carolina
Morehead State 6:00 PM
UT Martin
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
Lipscomb 6:00 PM
North Florida
Southern Ill 6:05 PM
Missouri State
Texas State 6:30 PM
Appalachian St
SC State 6:30 PM
Delaware State 6:30 PM
Coppin State
Middle Tennessee 6:30 PM
Texas-Arlington 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Norfolk State 6:30 PM
NC A&T 6:30 PM
NC Central
Savannah State 7:00 PM
Florida A&M
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Georgia State 7:00 PM
Marshall 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Rice 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Ark-Little Rock 7:15 PM
South Alabama 7:30 PM
Arkansas State
Alabama State 7:30 PM
Grambling St
Alabama A&M 7:30 PM
Jackson State
Sam Houston St 7:30 PM
Central Arkansas 7:30 PM
Portland State 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Southern U 7:30 PM
Prairie View
Alcorn State 7:30 PM
Texas Southern
Houston Baptist 7:30 PM
SE Louisiana 7:45 PM
New Orleans
California 8:00 PM
Eastern Ill 8:00 PM
Memphis 8:00 PM
VA Commonwealth 8:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Marist 8:00 PM
Sacramento St 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Northwestern St 8:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
North Texas 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 8:00 PM
Idaho 8:00 PM
Weber State
Abilene Christian 8:00 PM
Incarnate Word
Eastern Wash 8:05 PM
Idaho State
Bradley 8:35 PM
Cal State Fullerton 9:00 PM
UC Irvine
CS-Northridge 9:00 PM
Long Beach State
UC Riverside 9:00 PM
UC Davis
Stanford 10:00 PM
Arizona State
Utah 10:00 PM
Washington St
Monmouth 68 FINAL
Canisius 56
Wake Forest 85 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 79
Saint Louis 65 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 58
Saint Peters 62 FINAL
Rider 54
UNC-Asheville 51 FINAL
Liberty 59
UNC Greensboro 44 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 78
Michigan State 69 FINAL
Michigan 49
Arkansas 61 2nd Half 2:40
Ole Miss 49
Manhattan 24 2nd Half
Niagara 28
Massachusetts 23 2nd Half
Richmond 25
Virginia 30 2nd Half
Miami-Florida 34
Jacksonville St 16 2nd Half
Belmont 23
Morgan State 33 2nd Half
MD-Eastern Shore 31
Campbell 11 1st Half 11:39
Winthrop 11
Furman 37 2nd Half
Samford 26
Oregon 12 1st Half 12:54
Washington St 13
Indiana 1:55 PM
(23) Rutgers
Pepperdine 2:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Auburn 2:25 PM
(18) Texas A&M
Morehead St 3:00 PM
Tennessee St
George Mason 3:30 PM
Saint Josephs
Western Carolina 3:30 PM
East Tenn St
Arizona 4:00 PM
Texas State 4:00 PM
Appalachian St
TX-Arlington 4:00 PM
Georgia Southern
SC State 4:30 PM
Delaware State 4:30 PM
Coppin State
Portland 4:30 PM
Santa Clara
Norfolk State 4:30 PM
NC A&T 4:30 PM
NC Central
Savannah State 5:00 PM
Florida A&M
Virginia Tech 5:00 PM
Central Arkansas 5:00 PM
Houston Baptist 5:00 PM
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
Georgia 5:00 PM
Old Dominion 5:00 PM
Ark-Little Rock 5:00 PM
South Alabama 5:05 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 5:15 PM
Sam Houston St 5:30 PM
SE Louisiana 5:30 PM
New Orleans
Northwestern St 5:30 PM
Stephen F Austin
Alabama A&M 5:30 PM
Jackson State
Alabama State 5:30 PM
Southern U 5:30 PM
Prairie View
Alcorn State 5:30 PM
Texas Southern
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Wofford 5:45 PM
Abilene Christian 6:00 PM
Incarnate Word
La Salle 6:00 PM
Rhode Island
Illinois 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio 6:00 PM
Valparaiso 6:00 PM
Missouri State 6:05 PM
Indiana State
Georgia Tech 7:00 PM
(15) North Carolina
Presbyterian 7:00 PM
High Point
Charlotte 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Florida Atlantic 7:00 PM
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
North Texas
Wichita State 7:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago 7:00 PM
Northern Iowa
Bradley 7:05 PM
Vanderbilt 7:30 PM
(12) Kentucky
Colorado 8:00 PM
San Francisco 8:00 PM
FIU 8:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Idaho State 8:00 PM
Eastern Washington
Weber State 8:00 PM
Purdue 8:25 PM
Cal-Irvine 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Long Beach St 9:00 PM
Hawaii 9:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
UC Davis 9:00 PM
Northern Ariz 9:00 PM
Portland State
Southern Utah 9:00 PM
Sacramento St
Utah 10:30 PM
BYU 10:30 PM
St Marys-CA
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters



Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9




question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question