Heading into training camp, one position battle receiving a fair amount of attention was the 3rd CB/nickel back position. It’s a position battle with several dynamics and, according to Vikings assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, it’s a position battle still up in the air.
“It’s still a very competitive spot,” Frazier responded when asked about the nickel back position. “We have familiarity with Antoine Winfield because he’s done it before and had a lot of success. The fact that Benny (Sapp) has also played the nickel position gives us some leeway there. But we’re still trying to ascertain where Asher Allen and Karl Paymah are. The fact that Marcus McCauley wasn’t able to play this past week threw a wrench in things, so now we get him back to become part of the evaluation process. It’s still up in the air to a degree.”
As Frazier mentioned, the extra dynamic at play in the nickel back competition is that the veteran Winfield has shown he has the skill set to excel in that role.
“He has made a ton of plays in that nickel spot, a la Ronde Barber in Tampa,” Frazier explained when asked if he would consider moving Winfield inside to play the nickel. “Just because of how effective he is in the run and the pass and matching up against some of the other teams third wide receiver. Either way he has been so effective for us both outside and inside. So we can handle it either way.”
When Winfield is positioned as the nickel back (covering the slot receiver on the inside), it opens up a spot at an outside CB position. As a result, the winner of the 3rd CB position needs to show an ability to play both inside (as a possible nickel back) and outside (as a possible CB while Winfield plays the nickel).
“Ben Sapp is doing a good job for us,” Frazier said. “Asher Allen has come in and done a great job. We know Antoine Winfield can do it if he has to and Karl Paymah made some good plays the other day as a third corner. We’re still in the position where we’re evaluating and deciding who’s going to be that third corner. The way it’s going right now is great for us. They’re all playing so well that whoever wins that spot should make us better.”
Tags: Antoine Winfield, Asher Allen, Benny Sapp, Karl Paymah, Leslie Frazier, Marcus McCauley
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The Vikings were in full pads for Monday morning’s practice and the action heated up as the 11-on-11 action was live. After a long offseason of no contact and 3 days of camp with light contact, it was fun to see the guys out there going full speed and full contact.
As you would guess, the intensity usually picks up when the action is live, and today was no different. The Vikings coaching staff had the players working on short yardage, goal line and “move the ball” situations. I didn’t see it, but I’m told E.J. Henderson had the hit of the day when he popped RB Chester Taylor on an outside run play.
A few other highlights from this morning included an impressive and athletic diving interception by CB Marcus McCauley. A couple of other young defenders teamed up to make a nice play when LB David Herron tipped a pass and CB Asher Allen was able to get underneath it and intercept the pass. Two plays later, it looked as if S Husain Abdullah was set to pick off a pass, but TE Visanthe Shiancoe made an incredible leaping catch while completely outstretched down the right seam.
On the majority of snaps today, I would say the defense played a little bit better. But that’s very typical for this time during camp. As E.J. Henderson told me yesterday, the offense has a little more to go over during camp. It’s still good to see the defense playing well, though. They are in great hands with defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier.
From an offensive perspective, it’s a little weird to see just 2 QBs out there taking all the reps. They’re doing a good job, and the extra reps are helpful to both Sage Rosenfels, who is learning this offense, and John David Booty, who is still in the early stages of his development but is looking a lot better. I hope Tarvaris Jackson makes it back soon.
It’s only Day 4, so the depth chart situation is still fluid. Coaches are running guys in and out, mixing up combinations and still trying to determine who should be on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd teams. At this point, it’s not really worth commenting on who is running with each unit.
It was a busy morning at camp. Aside from the exciting on-field action, there was also plenty going on around the fields. Vikings preseason analyst and NFL Network personality Mike Mayock was in town (he arrived last night), as an NFL Network film crew followed him around practice. Mike is a great friend of vikings.com and is also a great football mind. You’ll see and hear more from him as camp and the preseason go on. His Vikings play-by-play partner, Ari Wolfe, was also at camp today.
Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf and VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman were schedule to speak to the Southeast MN Chamber of Commerce after practice today. Also, today was Vikings Season Ticket Owner Day.
The Vikings will practice again this afternoon at 3:00. We’ll have more updates throughout the day.
Tags: Ari Wolfe, Asher Allen, E.J. Henderson, Leslie Frazier, Marcus McCauley, Mike Mayock, Visanthe Shiancoe
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Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin have the starting CB positions on lock down (barring injury, knock on wood). But a defense always has more than 2 starting-caliber CBs on the roster. In fact, many plays require a defense to have 3 or more solid CBs on the field at a time.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Vikings nickel back situation. This will be a hotly-contested training camp battle, and one that will be vital to any success the Vikings defense will have this season.
We’ll begin with Marcus McCauley. His time with the Vikings so far has been a bit tumultuous. He was a 3rd round pick in 2007 and had a nice rookie season, but then inconsistent play and injuries derailed him a bit last year. But perhaps things are looking up for him now. With Winfield absent during OTAs and minicamps this offseason, McCauley took most of the 1st team reps. This doesn’t mean he’s locked the job down or is even a favorite, but it does make sense to note who filled in for a starter.
There are 3 other serious contenders for this job. They are Benny Sapp, Karl Paymah and Asher Allen. The Vikings coaching staff liked enough of what they saw from Sapp last year to bring him back this year. He was re-signed this past offseason. Sapp was an interception machine during training camp a year ago, and a similar performance this year in training camp may be enough to give him the nickel job full-time. Paymah was brought in from Denver as a free agent. He has good speed, lots of special teams experience and a big desire to transcend the role of a special teams player and become a regular contributor on defense. Allen was a 3rd round draft pick this year and was a standout during his time at the University of Georgia. He doesn’t have protoypical Cover 2 CB size, but neither does Antoine Winfield.
Lastly, we must mention Charles Gordon, who is recovering from a serious ankle injury, as well as Marcus Walker, who is one of a few young players who will compete hard to make the Vikings roster. Gordon fulfilled multiple roles for the Vikings last season before his injury. Aside from being the team’s 3rd CB, he also contributed in the return game. If he can get back to his normal playing ability after the injury, then he’s the favorite for the nickel job. But at this point there’s no guarantee that’ll happen.
Prediction: This position battle won’t be determined until late in the preseason, but right now I’m thinking Sapp and Allen will be in the mix as the regular season approaches.
Tags: Asher Allen, Benny Sapp, Charles Gordon, Karl Paymah, Marcus McCauley, Marcus Walker, Nickel Back
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