When looking at the scouting combine measurements of new Vikings safety Jayron Kearse, a seventh-round draft pick, it’s hard not to think of another oversized safety Mike Zimmer coached during his years in Cincinnati.
In 2012, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator there when the Bengals used a fifth-rounder on Boise State safety George Iloka, who was measured at the combine at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds with 34 1/2-inch arms.
By his second NFL season, Iloka was starting for Zimmer. He made 44 starts the past three seasons and just received a new contract in Cincinnati.
The Vikings inquired about Iloka when he reached free agency in March. But they instead signed Michael Griffin and later took a flyer on Kearse after the Clemson product lasted until the seventh round of the draft.
Kearse, too, is 6-foot-4 and his arms are a quarter of an inch shorter than Iloka’s. He is also nine pounds lighter than his Bengals counterpart.
“I don’t know if [that length] helps him or hurts him. I like big guys,” Zimmer said yesterday after his film session with local media, adding, “So far he’s looked good doing the things we’re asking him to do.”
In addition to Kearse and Iloka, Zimmer experimented with another tall safety when he was defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. Pat Watkins, who is 6-foot-5, started nine games as a rookie in 2006. “Watkins was OK in a lot of situations,” Zimmer said. He has played in the CFL since 2012.
While Zimmer said that possessing that kind of length isn’t necessarily a good thing for defensive backs who must quickly change directions, adding players with size is a big part of his philosophy on defense.
“I believe length always gives a team an advantage because they can reach further, jump higher and all those things,” Zimmer said. “So we always look for length in guys, and hopefully it works out good for [Kearse].”