Mike Zimmer couldn’t recall the last time, if ever, he coached an NFL defense that started two rookie cornerbacks before Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler did in the Vikings’ 31-23 win on Sunday in Houston.
Zimmer’s next-day assessments of his young corners weren’t all that bad — they did “pretty well,” actually, he said. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson had six completions at halftime but still finished with 300 passing yards buoyed by a second-half comeback attempt.
Zimmer admitted “it’s not going to get any easier” for Gladney, Dantzler and whichever young corners are available with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson up next in Seattle.
“We’ve had to face [Aaron] Rodgers, and last week it was Watson, and [Ryan] Tannehill was playing good,” Zimmer said Monday via videoconference. “The [Seahawks] receivers that they’re playing and the quarterback, obviously, it’s not going to get any easier for them. They’ve just got to keep going out and keep refining their technique, keep getting better at what they’re doing, keep learning about NFL football and then go out and compete. Go out and challenge people.”
It remains to be seen if the Vikings will have their full complement of cornerbacks. Mike Hughes has been held out for two weeks because of a neck injury. Dantzler, a third-round rookie, returned against the Texans after a two-game absence from what he called a “stressful” rib injury sustained Sept. 13 vs. Green Bay.
Gladney is handling “double duty,” Zimmer said, defending the slot and outside while Hughes is sidelined. Dantzler, who had a miscommunication with fill-in safety George Iloka on Watson’s first 24-yard touchdown pass, otherwise allowed two catches for 21 yards on four targets, per Pro Football Focus.
The rookie said he tried to make the most of his time off the field.
“I watched film with the older guys, just made sure I was on top of my game,” Dantzler said. “[Defensive backs coach Daronte Jones] did a great job to make sure I was still always prepared, going over my plays and taking notes knowing I wasn’t playing. Still doing the little things.”
The NFL held a conference call Monday with owners, general managers and head coaches to discuss adherence to COVID-19 policies, new protocols and punishment for repeat offenders in the wake of the Titans’ outbreak and postponement of at least two games.
The league already warned teams that losing draft picks is a possible punishment for failure to follow protocols, but added forfeiture of a game as another consequence. On Monday, the NFL also announced a “leaguewide video monitoring system to ensure compliance” and more restrictions on tryouts and gatherings outside team facilities
The video monitoring system is for “particularly the mandate that all staff and players wear PPE while in a club facility and on travel at all times,” according to the league’s memo.
Vikings coaches, players and staffers are back to standard protocols this week after undergoing two-a-day COVID testing and holding all meetings virtually last week following the Titans game on Sept. 27.
No suspension expected for Smith
Harrison Smith could be fined by the NFL, but the All-Pro safety is not expected to be suspended for Sunday night’s game in Seattle following his ejection from the 31-23 win in Houston.
Smith was flagged and thrown out for leading with his helmet on a hit that concussed Texans tight end Jordan Akins in the second quarter. Smith, the nine-year veteran, hadn’t been ejected since his rookie season.
“I have not heard a word, so I anticipate him playing,” Zimmer said.
Gettin’ Griddy wit it
Receiver Adam Thielen is trying to hit them with “The Griddy,” teammate Justin Jefferson’s signature celebration from LSU to the NFL, but he’s admittedly a work in progress after he gave the cameras his rendition of the dance following a touchdown catch against the Texans.
“We’ve been joking about that since he got here, he’s been trying to coach me up,” Thielen said. “He won’t acknowledge it, probably, or agree with it, but he makes me do it, so that’s why I do it. We play this game to have fun, so I’m just trying to have fun with it.”