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.


Vikings personnel review: Defensive backs

Posted by: under Off the field, Quarterbacks, Vikings, Leslie Frazier, Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, Leslie Frazier, Tyrell Johnson, Vikings draft Updated: January 11, 2012 - 2:11 PM

Meetings are taking place at Winter Park this week with the Vikings planning a detailed player-by-player evaluation of their current roster. As they perform their in-house review, we’re following suit and delivering our own snapshot evaluation of each position group.

 
DEFENSIVE BACKS
 
Get excited: Hey, 2011 is over. And that, as much as anything, is reason for celebration after a season in which the Vikings were absolutely torched by opposing quarterbacks. Despite collecting a league-best 50 sacks, the defense allowed 4,019 passing yards and 34 touchdowns this season. Opposing quarterbacks posted a staggering 107.6 rating and were only intercepted eight times by the Vikings. As far as the secondary was concerned, it was a miserable, god-awful, wretched, horrible season. Injuries kept Antoine Winfield off the field for all but five games. Cedric Griffin proved incredibly ineffective in coverage and was also surly with the media. And worst of all, Chris Cook was arrested on felony domestic assault charges in late October. That left the Vikings depleted and vulnerable in the defensive backfield and they never came close to overcoming that weakness. But now? Hey, it’s hard to imagine things getting any worse in 2012. Winfield should be back and healthy, capable of being a factor in the slot. Asher Allen earned the confidence of the coaching staff in the second half of this season. And there are a few ounces of internal optimism that Brandon Burton could be a solid role player going forward. Look, we’re grasping at straws trying to find “Get excited” reasons for this unit. But as we mentioned, that horrible 2011 season is in the rearview mirror and the Vikings have acknowledged their glaring flaws and will work through free agency and the draft to address them.
 
Keep an eye on: Cook’s legal standing. The 24-year-old is due to stand trial beginning March 5. And until there’s some kind of resolution with those legal matters, head coach Leslie Frazier will not figure Cook into the team’s long-term plans. But … If somehow Cook emerges with a reduced charge and/or doesn’t have to face extended jail time, the Vikings will consider giving him a window of opportunity to work back into the mix. That’s why the team kept Cook on the payroll even after exiling him in November. Reality is reality in the NFL. And it’s difficult for a team to make the jump from awful to relevant without taking some risks. The Vikings have major holes to plug in the secondary. And Cook is a promising cornerback who blends good size (6-2, 215 pounds) with quickness normally seen in smaller corners. And when a big on-field problem has an obvious potential solution, it’s foolish to dismiss that too early.
 
This is a difficult dilemma for the organization. The details of Cook’s alleged assault from October are troubling. But there are also plenty of people in Cook’s background who identify him as a good kid who has sometimes made bad mistakes. The Vikings made it clear months ago that they will not give up on Cook until they absolutely have to. So now the team will wait for the end result of his current legal matters before weighing their options once again.
 
Reason for worry: The Vikings finished the season with only eight interceptions, worst in the NFL. That included a drought of nine straight games without a pick. All season long, opposing quarterbacks threw the ball all over the field with little fear of negative consequence. At present, the Vikings just don’t have that ball-hawking playmaker in the defensive backfield. And in a pass-happy division in which Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford combined to throw for 9,681 yards and 86 touchdowns during the 2011 regular season, the Vikings won’t be able to hide their weaknesses very easily. Plus, it’s not just the cornerback situation that is up in the air. At safety, Husain Abdullah (concussion) and Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) both ended the season on injured reserve with series injuries. Both players are now free agents with iffy futures. So that heightens the pressure on Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond to step up their games as the Vikings work on plans to upgrade the cast around them.
 
 
 
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