When was the last time Dan Chisena — the talented but raw former Penn State track runner who was the only undrafted rookie to make the Vikings’ initial 53-man roster — played defense before his three-day experiment in training camp?
“I think it was middle school,” Chisena said Monday via videoconference. “So, it was a little different.”
Days before last weekend’s roster cuts, Vikings coaches told Chisena, who played 14 games as a receiver after rejoining Penn State’s football team, he’d be switching to safety. But because of the communication responsibilities at safety, they moved him to corner for three practices.
That idea was quickly shelved, and the Vikings instead made Chisena the seventh receiver on the active roster last weekend.
What the Vikings know is Chisena’s speed helped make him a standout special teams player in limited college experience, and changing positions was a matter of seeing what else he could do with the roster spot.
“We feel like he’s got a chance to be a premier special teams player,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “So, hopefully he can get 20-25 plays a game.”
Chisena has been working as a gunner on coverage teams, where there is an opening after some special teams contributors left in free agency. Chisena, a Downingtown, Pa., native, first walked on as a Penn State football player in 2015 and only switched to track because that’s where he got a scholarship (and NCAA rules prohibited from playing both).
Outrunning the competition is his game.
“You just kind of get to play with your hair on fire and scream down there and try to contain the returner,” Chisena said of playing gunner. “I really enjoy that role.”
Week 1 starter at last
The Vikings’ new-look offensive line, with Pat Elflein moved to right guard and Dakota Dozier as the new left guard, is “starting to settle in,” Zimmer said, as Sunday’s opener against the Packers approaches.
Dozier, before now a career backup with 11 spot starts, will be a Week 1 starter for the first time in his seventh NFL season. In his only start at left guard last year for the Vikings, he helped Dalvin Cook rush for a career-high 154 yards at Green Bay in Week 2.
He’s “playing with much more power,” said Zimmer, which Dozier credited to the most unusual of offseasons.
“This offseason was totally different for everybody, but I had the opportunity to really focus my body and take care of my nutrition,” he said. “Focus on training more. Had an opportunity to train here at a local gym, and really felt it benefited my body. I think that’s shown on the field.”
‘Just normal pressure’
Safety Harrison Smith said it’s “kind of funny” to look at a roster with no backup safeties, but Zimmer is expecting more roster shuffling this week before the first game.
“We plan to play every snap for the whole season, anyway,” Smith said. “That’s what you try to do. So, there’s no added pressure. It’s just normal pressure.”
The Vikings do have second-year safety Nate Meadors and rookie Josh Metellus on the practice squad, and rules for the 2020 season allow them to be promoted twice for nonconsecutive game days without having to be signed to the active roster.
“Technically, you can have more guys active on the gameday roster,” Zimmer said. “It does give you some flexibility and I think it’s a good thing.”
‘A chance to play’
The Vikings’ strategy at quarterback has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic, Zimmer confirmed. The team is keeping four passers in the fold, with Kirk Cousins and Sean Mannion on the active roster and Jake Browning and Nate Stanley as emergency options on the practice squad.
“It’s hard to get an evaluation with the quarterbacks when they haven’t really played any games,” Zimmer said. “They showed us some good things in practice. We like Browning a lot. So, I think it’s another chance to keep an extra guy if something did happen with the virus, you’ve got a chance to play the game.”