The Vikings are getting closer to playing football. Training camp ramps up this week with the start of full practices, which can begin Wednesday. Until then, we’ll preview the key points at each position every day. Practices in full pads start Aug. 17.
Cornerbacks: Mike Hughes, Jeff Gladney, Holton Hill, Cameron Dantzler, Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, Nevelle Clarke, Mark Fields, Marcus Sayles
Safeties: Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Josh Metellus, Myles Dorn, Nate Meadors, Brian Cole II
In: Gladney (first-round pick), Dantzler (third-round pick), Hand (fifth-round pick), Metellus (sixth-round pick), Cole (seventh-round pick), Clarke (undrafted), Dorn (undrafted)
Out: CB Xavier Rhodes (free agent), CB Trae Waynes (free agent), CB Mackensie Alexander (free agent), S Andrew Sendejo (free agent), S Jayron Kearse (free agent), CB Marcus Sherels (free agent)
The Vikings secondary needs to replace about half of the snaps from last season after all three starting corners and two backup safeties signed elsewhere in free agency. Mike Zimmer’s most experienced cornerback is now Mike Hughes, who has appeared in 20 NFL games, providing nearly a clean slate at the position. At safety, after tagging and trying to trade safety Anthony Harris this spring, they’ll settle for keeping one of the NFL’s best alongside Harrison Smith. Harris will play under the franchise tag and, without a new deal, will become a free agent again in 2021. “That’s a great thing for us because those two guys are smart. They make all the calls,” co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said. “They’re going to be able to help those guys out back there.” Those guys are most likely Hughes, Holton Hill and rookie first-round pick Jeff Gladney, who will not have the benefit of a preseason to get ready. Corners Kris Boyd and Cameron Dantzler are also in the mix.
Nickel corner. Perhaps by default, Hughes as the most experienced will be the Vikings’ slot corner in Week 1 against Green Bay. But Gladney played some nickel at TCU, where on occasion he also shadowed top receivers, showing the rookie’s range. Zimmer has often relied on multiple slot defenders, and Gladney could become another option by the end of the season.
Player to watch
Hughes. The 2018 first-round pick could ease some of the secondary’s growing pains with a breakout season. He continued to show promise last year, leading Vikings corners in pass deflections despite ranking fourth in coverage snaps. Hughes didn’t play much in the slot (and has fewer than 150 snaps there in his career, according to Pro Football Focus), but he was solid. If he can level inconsistencies and shore up tackling, among other things, Hughes has the talent to make a big difference in 2020.
9. No NFL defense had more interceptions last season from its starting safeties than the Vikings’ Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, who led all safeties with six picks (in the regular season). Opposing quarterbacks may have to look twice this year before picking on a young Vikings corner, as Smith and Harris form perhaps the league’s best tandem and a strong security blanket for this defensive makeover.