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 before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Thin Vikings secondary to face another elite receiver

Posted by: under Vikings, Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin Updated: October 27, 2011 - 12:46 PM

Frustrated? Yeah, Carolina receiver Steve Smith is OK admitting now what he felt back then. Things grew so frustrating for Smith in 2010, a season in which the Panthers lost 14 of 16 games and had an offense that averaged all of 12 points per game, that he wanted out of Charlotte. Smith was so aggravated he went directly to Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and asked to be traded.

"I just felt like it was time for a change," Smith said. "I felt like the game here was passing me by and I needed things to evolve."

Now? Suddenly, Smith is back on top of his game. And back on top of the NFL as well. His 818 receiving yards currently leads the league -- ahead of Wes Welker (785), Mike Wallace (730) and Calvin Johnson (679).

So just what all has changed? Ya know, besides the obvious of Cam Newton replacing Jimmy Clausen at quarterback and Ron Rivera taking over head coaching duties from John Fox.

"We don't have a lot of time to really discuss all of the changes," Smith said with a laugh this week. "But it's drastically different. Drastically different. It's so different it's making a 32-year-old guy seem like he can still play."

On Sunday, Smith will try to continue his hot streak against a Vikings secondary with little depth. Veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield hopes to return to the field for the first time since Oct. 2 but must first survive the contact of this afternoon's practice in pads. Winfield's return would certainly bolster a secondary that would otherwise feature Cedric Griffin, Asher Allen and Marcus Sherels as it three main cornerbacks. But defensive coordinator Fred Pagac knows he has his work cut out for him in slowing Smith regardless of who's available.

Said Pagac: "He's very, very competitive. Plus he has great burst. And he's very strong. He's a feisty fighter who plays with an attitude."

The Vikings have had mixed results against elite receivers this season.

Calvin Johnson went for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of Detroit's Week 3 win at Mall of America Field. Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe had 107 yards, including a 52-yard TD the following week. And Greg Jennings led Green Bay with 147 yards and a score last week.

On the bright side, the Vikings did an admirable job limiting San Diego's Vincent Jackson (two catches, 31 yards) and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (four catches, 66 yards). So maybe, just maybe, they can have success in frustrating Smith this week.

"He gets upset every now and then when things aren't going his way," linebacker Erin Henderson said.


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