Daronte Jones became the Vikings defensive backs coach this year, working with a group that lost veteran starters Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander in free agency and didn’t have the benefit of a standard training camp.
Jones, 41, spent the past two seasons as Bengals defensive backs coach. He said coming to work for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer — who first made his name as a defensive backs guru with the Cowboys — was a challenge and a reason to join the club.
“I have a great opportunity to learn from a great mind like Mike,” said Jones, who coached at Wisconsin in 2015 before making the leap to the NFL as Dolphins assistant DB coach. “It’s challenging because you naturally want to do things the right way and do things the way he wants them done. I think it’s a great opportunity, so I wouldn’t say easier or harder [working for him], just a great opportunity.”
The six Vikings cornerbacks — Kris Boyd, Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, Harrison Hand, Holton Hill and Mike Hughes — have an average age of 22.6.
In Sunday’s 31-23 victory at Houston, the club started rookies Gladney and Dantzler, with Gladney taking 100% of the defensive snaps and Dantzler 96%.
Jones said one of the biggest challenges was making sure that his young players could find a way to turn what they learned in a virtual offseason into real game action.
”Just getting the guys ready to go mentally and physically with the virtual offseason that we had, it’s unlike anything that any rookies have ever gone through,” Jones said. “But this offseason they’ve had a chance to hear the defensive installs several times more. So the challenging part is just carrying it over to the field with the mental reps and the physical reps.”
Having a veteran safety tandem in Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris has been a big help, Jones said.
“We’re lucky to have them. They’re smart, they’re intelligent, they’re great leaders in how they set the tone in the room,” Jones said. “Especially in a young room like we have. You can always use that to your advantage to be able to do some different things schematically.”
It would already be a challenging situation if the league was equally fair to defenses and offenses — and that simply isn’t the case. The NFL wants big points, and through four weeks this season games are averaging 51.3 points between both teams, the largest number since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970.
“The rules are the rules, and in life you can only control the things you can control,” Jones said. “It’s our jobs as coaches to coach the rules and get our guys ready to be successful.”
Like a sponge
Last season, the Vikings added veteran coach Gary Kubiak to help with the offense being installed under Kevin Stefanski, who was in his first full season as offensive coordinator.
This year, with new co-defensive coordinators in Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson and a new defensive backs coach in Jones, the team added Dom Capers as a senior assistant head coach to help with the defense.
But Mike Zimmer said the addition of Capers had nothing to do with his confidence in Jones, who is in his fifth season coaching in the NFL.
“You know, it’s always good to have another set of eyes, someone that has done some things differently,” Zimmer said. “I have the utmost confidence in all of our defensive coaches but Daronte is a very good young coach. That part doesn’t have anything to do with Dom.
“I just had Dom in because I just felt like it worked so well with Gary last year with new ideas and thoughts and a different set of eyes to look at things, that I thought it would be good defensively to do the same thing.”
Jones said that’s how it has played out so far, with the 70-year-old Capers, whose coaching career began in 1972, providing a lot of experience.
“It’s been great having him in the room. Picking his brain, trying to be like a sponge and talking to him consistently about the things he’s done in the past and his experiences,” Jones said. “Just trying to learn as much as possible from him.”
Regents’ big decision
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents is about to face a big decision with a vote to cut three Gophers men’s sports — indoor and outdoor track and field, gymnastics and tennis — coming on Friday.
The cuts would save around $2.7 million each year, according to athletic director Mark Coyle. The Gophers had operating expenses of $129.5 million in their most recent budget for 2019 against operating revenue of $130.5 million.
The gymnastics program has already lobbied the board and University of Minnesota President Joan Gable and threatened legal action if eliminated.
And now the track and field program is getting a big lobbying effort from a group called Save Gopher Track that has a lot of former Gophers and current business leaders in the Twin Cities involved.
The Gophers lost a big proponent of nonrevenue sports when Joel Maturi retired as athletic director in 2012, but the fact is these teams have been under scrutiny for some time with attendance down in football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey.
And that was before the coronavirus hit.
The recent decision by the Big Ten to play football this season, potentially earning a lot of TV revenue for the conference, might make the board put off this decision until getting a better view of the Gophers’ financial outlook.
• Pro Football Focus put out its NFL All-Pro team for the first quarter of the season and the Vikings had running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Justin Jefferson on the first team while wide receiver Adam Thielen and safety Harrison Smith were on the second team. Also on the first team was Xavier Rhodes, the former Vikings corner now with the Colts. Rhodes has two interceptions and five pass deflections on the season.
• Former Timberwolves coach and shooting guru Mike Penberthy has a chance to win his first NBA title in his first year as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers, who are up 3-1 in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat and former Wolves All-Star Jimmy Butler.
• NBA.com reports the consensus of NBA draft experts is that 6-5 guard Anthony Edwards of Georgia is the No. 1 prospect and most likely top pick by the Wolves. But there is a lot of attention being paid to LaMelo Ball, who played professionally in Australia instead of going to college, as a fit at No. 1 to play in the backcourt alongside D’Angelo Russell, and Ball could be a big-ticket draw.