Antone Exum got his first NFL start on Sunday, and by the second half, he was the last line of defense. The second-year Vikings safety stepped in for an injured Harrison Smith (knee) alongside Andrew Sendejo … but when Sendejo left because of a knee injury and was replaced by Robert Blanton, well, the Vikings had no more safeties.
“I thought, ‘I don’t care what happens, you’ve got to stay in the game, because we don’t have anyone else that plays the safety position on the sidelines,’” Exum joked on Monday, a day after the Vikings’ 20-10 victory in Atlanta.
Exum had a fumble recovery after teammate Anthony Barr chased down running back Tevin Coleman and forced him to cough up the ball. Exum hopes he can continue to be a ballhawk; as a junior at Virginia Tech, he had five interceptions and two forced fumbles before injuries wiped out most of his senior season.
“Me and the ball have a pretty nice relationship,” he laughed. “I talk to her almost every night. Me and her are in a good place in our relationship.
“I always try to be a guy who is around the ball, always running to the ball. Every coach that I’ve had has taught me that if you run to the ball, good things will happen, so I was just fortunate to be around the ball when Anthony Barr made that play.”
Exum said he had few worries about fitting in on the Vikings defense, which held the Falcons to 210 passing yards.
“Everybody just goes out and tries to play for each other,” he said “If you make a mistake, it’s not just about you making a mistake. You’re thinking, ‘Oh man, I could have left the corner out to dry on that one’ … or, ‘I wasn’t in the right gap, and now I put the linebacker in a hard spot’ … so we have a good camaraderie. We try to hold each other accountable, so when we mess up, we’re not just playing for ourselves, we’ve playing for the guys beside us.”
Exum hopes he’s played his way into more regular time in the defensive backfield.
“I do hope that I showed that I can step in and be a starting caliber safety for this team,” Exum said. “I understand we have two great starting safeties in Harrison Smith and Sendejo, They’ve done a great job all year, that’s a decision the coach will make if they want to get me out on the field if those guys end up coming back.”