ORLANDO -- Although the Vikings starting safety tandem of Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams combined for only one interception last season, that wasn't the most disturbing thing for those who regularly watched the team.
Darren Sharper talked more than once about how the Vikings' defensive scheme did not give the safeties an opportunity to pick off many passes and that seemed to be proven when the veteran signed with New Orleans last year and proceeded to get nine interceptions. That matched his total from the previous three seasons in the Vikings' system.
What likely was cause for concern for the Vikings was that Johnson and Williams did not always seem to play an aggressive style. One play that comes to mind as an example occured during the Vikings' overtime loss on Dec. 28 in Chicago when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler scrambled and knocked over Williams.
That's not what you expect from a player who received a six-year, $33 million free-agent deal that included nearly $13 million in guarantees in February 2008. Johnson, the starting strong safety, also had his issues and was replaced by rookie Jamarca Sanford for parts of the regular-season finale against the Giants.
Sanford, a seventh-round pick in 2009 who plays the hard-hitting type of game you want from a safety, will get a chance to continue pushing Johnson and Williams in training camp. But coach Brad Childress said this week at the NFL owners meetings that he liked what he saw from the starting safeties in the Vikings' postseason games against Dallas and New Orleans.
"I thought [they] played really well in the playoffs," Childress said. "With that said you continue to add good players. Jamarca will have had that one trip around the block and none of them are … they are never going to step away from competing and competition makes your team better as opposed to guys that say, ‘Hey, I’ve got mine, you guys go ahead and get yours.’ We’ve always identified and promoted guys that if there’s a move it’s with merit, it’s not just because he’s a good competitor. ... [Jamarca] learned things about our defense and he will play that much faster this year.”
Williams tied for fifth on the Vikings with 11 tackles in the playoffs and Johnson had six.
Asked what light went on for those two, Childress said: "I thought they did great with their independent movement. Their disguises. They did a good job with, we’ve got a small [defensive] menu. We always talk about ‘small menu, big understanding.’ They did a good job with their understanding and trying to present to the quarterback one thing and then at the snap of the ball or just before the snap of the ball showing you some different things. ... They tackled pretty well in the playoffs. I thought they played together as one."