Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Zimmer on the challenge of drafting good safeties

Posted by: Matt Vensel under Vikings, Super Bowl Updated: May 29, 2014 - 8:21 AM

Perhaps trying to emulate what the Seahawks did shutting down the Broncos to win the Super Bowl, NFL teams drafted a record nine defensive backs in the first round earlier this month.

Four of those players were safeties, which was the highest number selected in at least 25 years.

After drafting Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater in the first round, the Vikings were not back on the clock again until the middle of the third round. By then, safeties such as Deone Bucannon and Jimmie Ward were long gone. After they took defensive end Scott Crichton and running back Jerick McKinnon in the third round, the safeties continued to fly off the board.

The Vikings didn’t address the safety position until the sixth round, and even then, they turned to a defensive back who had lined up as the last line of defense for just a season and a half in college. The pick, Antone Exum, was announced as a corner. But after the draft ended, general manager Rick Spielman said that the plan was to start out the Virginia Tech standout at safety.

The following weekend, at the team’s rookie minicamp, head coach Mike Zimmer spoke about how difficult it can be to project some college defensive backs to the safety position in the pros.

“The safety position in college football really is hard to find guys now at least in my opinion, guys that have the coverage ability that you are looking for,” Zimmer said two weeks ago. “There are times in my career that I always thought, ‘Let’s play with three corners and one safety and make the other guy a safety because of the throwing that’s been going on in the league.’”

Zimmer continued: “The bigger corners that may not be quite as fast that are better tacklers, that are more physical, smart -- they have to be smart -- we always have a little category for those guys to be a possibility of being safeties. And Rick [Spielman], their group upstairs, really they have little niche places for all of these guys so they’ve been doing it for a while.”

Robert Blanton played cornerback at Notre Dame but was immediately moved to safety after he was drafted by the Vikings in 2012 (he did get some snaps as the team’s nickel cornerback in 2013). They took a similar approach with Mistral Raymond, who played both corner and safety, like Exum, at South Florida. They said he had the size of a safety and could cover like a corner.

This practice, of course, is nothing new. The Cardinals look smart (right now at least) for gambling on Tyrann Mathieu, who played cornerback at LSU but plays both free safety and nickelback in the NFL. The Bills have had some success putting Aaron Williams through a similar transformation. And Charles Woodson and Darren Sharper made the switch to safety as veterans.

The Vikings, who waited until the sixth round to take a chance on a tweener in Exum, are hopeful that he can make a similarly-seamless transition to the safety position in the NFL.

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NY Mets - LP: J. Familia 6 FINAL
Miami - WP: A. Ramos 9
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 7 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: J. Teheran 0
Boston - LP: B. Badenhop 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: G. Balfour 4
Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes 6 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 4
Pittsburgh - LP: G. Cole 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: S. Maness 5
Milwaukee - LP: J. Nelson 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Turner 4
Detroit - WP: D. Price 12 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Kluber 1
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Oakland - WP: J. Hammel 6
San Francisco - WP: J. Affeldt 4 FINAL
Colorado - LP: C. Friedrich 2
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Ross 3
San Francisco - LP: S. Romo 9 FINAL
Colorado - WP: L. Hawkins 10
Washington - WP: G. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Los Angeles - LP: R. Hernandez 4
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 3 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura 4
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
Buffalo 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Minnesota 9/7/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Cleveland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Oakland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
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Baltimore
Washington 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tennessee 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
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Miami
Carolina 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Tampa Bay
San Francisco 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Indianapolis 9/7/14 7:30 PM
Denver
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
SMU 0 FINAL
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 13 FINAL
Louisville 31
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
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Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
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(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(7) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
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Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
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Miss State
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Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
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Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(2) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
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Kentucky
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Minnesota
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Northwestern
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Oklahoma State
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Iowa
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So Florida
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Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
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ULM
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Texas
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Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
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Winnipeg
Indiana 84 FINAL
Chicago 86
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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 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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