INDIANAPOLIS — The Vikings are expected to shake things up at the safety position in the next couple of months. Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton are free agents, and it sure doesn't sound like coach Mike Zimmer sees either as a suitable option to play alongside Pro Bowler Harrison Smith.
"I think that if Harrison Smith was paired with a guy that had some other qualities, we could allow Harrison to be more of an impactful player," Zimmer said today at his podium session at the scouting combine. "I think Harrison can be more impactful if he had the right kind of guy next to him."
Asked if that right kind of guy is on the roster, he replied, "I don't know."
Blanton started 13 games at strong safety next to Smith in 2014, Zimmer's first year in Minnesota. In 2015, Sendejo claimed the job and started 13 games. Youngsters Antone Exum and Anthony Harris also got starts. While Exum and Harris remain unknowns, the Vikings know what they had in Blanton and Sendejo, who both allowed big breakdowns at times.
Still, despite the inconsistency and mental lapses from Blanton and Sendejo, Smith was one of the NFL's best safeties the past two seasons, with Zimmer using him all over the field — sometimes blitzing, sometimes covering tight ends man-to-man, sometimes dropping back into a centerfielder role. So it will be interesting to see how Zimmer can get even more out of him.
As for the opening next to Smith, the Vikings will be checking out safeties here in Indianapolis. Ohio State’s Vonn Bell is considered to be the best safety in this draft class. Boise State’s Darian Thompson, Duke’s Jeremy Cash and Clemson’s Jayron Kearse are also considered early-round prospects by the draftniks.
Defensive backs are scheduled to work out for teams on Monday.
There should also be a handful of options in free agency, including a pair of Bengals whom Zimmer previously coached in Reggie Nelson and George Iloka. Those two will be worth keeping an eye on if they hit the market.