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Breaking news and year-round coverage of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Access Vikings is the Star Tribune's blog covering team news, rumors, games and all things purple.

Vikings evaluating a handful of cornerbacks to fill important nickel role

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For just the second time on Wednesday, NFL rules allowed second-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander to line up across from receiver Stefon Diggs during Vikings practice.

Football is just getting started at Winter Park.

As are the many competitions we’ll continuing updating throughout the summer. One of the more intriguing and important roles left open by free agency falls in the middle of the defense. Captain Munnerlyn provided an underrated service for three seasons in Minnesota as the nickel cornerback, tasked with defending smaller, quicker receivers with no help from a sideline to dictate direction.

It’s perhaps the biggest hole left in the defense from departures this offseason as Munnerlyn played about 60 percent to retired linebacker Chad Greenway’s 40 percent of snaps. Anticipating Munnerlyn’s exit, the Vikings drafted Alexander in the second round in 2016 and are now evaluating him, among others, to take over in the slot.

“Right now we have a number of guys working in there,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “As we progress through this offseason, competition at the position will come to the top and we will look forward to going through that process.”

The 23-year-old Alexander started the Vikings offseason program last month without a hitch after last season ended on injured reserve and surgery to repair a lingering groin issue he’d dealt with since Clemson. While he should be considered the front-runner, Alexander won’t be handed the job.

Head coach Mike Zimmer has another talented pupil in Alexander, who took some rookie lumps in only 68 defensive snaps last season. After showing promise in the preseason, he didn’t play more than 18 defensive snaps in a game. He was penalized twice on defense and, after not allowing a touchdown in his final 23 college games, Alexander surrendered one in fewer than 40 snaps in the NFL.

The Vikings turned to 38-year-old veteran Terence Newman to fill the slot role when Munnerlyn needed to sit out Week 10 at Washington. They could do so again this season as Newman rotated into the slot with Alexander during Wednesday’s OTA practice. Cornerback Jabari Price is also in the mix.

The ageless Newman, who held a starting job for two years from fellow first-round pick Trae Waynes, could once again help the Vikings as they bring along another young cornerback at his own pace.

Spielman gives updates on absent Bridgewater and Zimmer

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The Vikings just took the field at Winter Park for their second organized team activity workout of the week. But quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and head coach Mike Zimmer were nowhere to be found.

We knew Zimmer would not be there, as he is about 800 miles away in Kentucky, where he is resting following his latest surgery.

But it was a little surprising not to see Bridgewater here a day after the team released video trumpeting his return to the practice field.

The reason for Bridgewater’s absence, according to G.M. Rick Spielman, was that he had a scheduled appointment with his doctor.

Still, Spielman said it was “very encouraging” to see Bridgewater, who has been throwing to receivers here for at least a few weeks, take the next step by tossing passes at an official organized practice, though he stressed that Bridgewater is still not technically practicing with the team.

“Part of the rehab process you saw yesterday was that he is able to drop back and throw the ball,” Spielman said. “He is not cleared for practice, so I want to make that perfectly clear. But he’s working extremely hard in his rehab and we’ll continue to monitor his progress.”

Spielman, as he has done all offseason, declined to share whether the 24-year-old is ahead of schedule in his recovery, only saying, “He’s very limited in what he’s able to do at this point, but it’s progress.” He would not say if Bridgewater might be cleared by the start of training camp, which kicks off a couple of months from now.

As for Zimmer’s timetable to return to practice, Spielman said the 60-year-old coach, who had an eighth surgery on his troublesome right eye last Wednesday, will be re-evaluated in a couple of weeks. He said the Vikings are “very excited” about how this latest surgery went.

“He does need to rest and recover,” he said. “The best thing about it is he’s 12 hours away so I know he can’t drive back to the office every day.”

I asked Spielman whether this was Zimmer’s or the team’s decision for the coach to step away from football for at least a couple of weeks.

“I would just say Coach Zimmer is very hard-headed in a lot of things,” Spielman said with a smile and a quick chuckle. “And sometimes, just like with these players, you have to make sure your health comes first.”

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