Admit it, as each new Vikings pick drew close during May’s NFL Draft you said to yourself, “This will probably be a cornerback. This has to be a cornerback.” And then it wasn’t. So you waited for the next pick and hoped again. And with the first five picks Rick Speilman went a different direction.
Even casual Vikings fans expected their team to address the glaring pass defense problems this offseason, especially via the draft. The expectation was perfectly valid, given that the Vikings finished 31st in pass defense and ceded the most passing touchdowns (37) in the league last season. They were terrible.
One needn’t be a nanotechnologist to discern that, in the pass-happy NFL, being terrible against the pass kills you.
On paper, however, it wasn’t exactly what the Vikings faithful were hoping for.
Of course, prior to the draft the Vikings lured Captain Munnerlyn to start at corner and inked free agent cornerback Derek Cox and veteran safety Kurt Coleman. They also let Chris Cook and A.J. Jefferson walk, which is the very definition of “addition by subtraction.”
But here’s the thing: it seems counter-intuitive, but maybe the Vikings didn’t need to go big in free agency. Maybe they didn’t need to uncover the next Patrick Peterson or Richard Sherman in the draft.
Speilman hired Mike Zimmer to be head coach for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which is his ability to build and scheme his way to success on defense, often times using cast-offs and players who were thought to be of less-than stellar ability.
The best hope for improvement from this Vikings defense, especially against the pass, lies squarely with Zimmer. Vikings fans have no option but to have blind faith that the new head coach will work his magic.
Obviously, Munnerlyn is a step up in talent and should finally help fill the void left by Antoine Winfield. Moreover, Xavier Rhodes flashed star potential as a rookie last season and safety Harrison Smith looks like he’ll be the leader of the secondary for years to come. That’s a good foundation. Clearly, a pass rush helps obscure coverage deficiencies to a certain extent. Zimmer’s defensive line rotation should help plenty in that regard. Anthony Barr’s speed off the edge and more snaps from Everson Griffen shouldn’t hurt either.
In short, Zimmer’s scheme promises to look nothing like the Tampa-2 favored by the previous regime. Frankly that can only be a positive development. Zimmer is looking for aggressiveness, toughness and tackling ability. Oh and his guys have to be able to cover.
"You can find a Cover 2 corner anywhere. I can go down to the 7-11 in Bloomington and get one," Zimmer said while mic’d up in Mankato on NFL Network the other day in an unintentional shot at the scheme that preceded his in Minnesota.
You can’t argue with his track record. Zimmer has made a career out of turning around defenses. You’ve heard the stats by now, but it bears repeating: his Bengals defense ranked fifth against the pass last season and seventh the year before. I’m working to confirm that none of the players in said Bengals defenses were discovered at a 7-11.
I’m not suggesting this year’s Vikings defense is going to finish in the top 10 against the pass. I haven’t inhaled that much of Josh Gordon’s second-hand smoke. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised if Zimmer cobbled together a defense that ascends to the ranks of mediocrity against the pass in 2014 and perhaps even above average in 2015.
Urgent and horrifying announcement
Coming soon to a purple corner of the Internet near you, from the folks who brought you TwinsDaily.com: We’ll be launching VikingsJournal.com at some point this preseason and it will contain a smorgasbord of Vikings content sure to please every Helga-horn-wearing member of Vikings Nation. Don’t bother going there now; you won’t find anything yet. I’ll let you know when the ship sets sail, so don’t worry. That is all.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell