Countdown to ‘Kato: 27 days
It’s July! Minnesota Vikings training camp starts within the month, so it’s time to get you primed for what is probably the second-to-last training camp ever in Mankato.
Each weekday for the rest of July leading up to when the team reports on the 28th, I’ll be addressing one offseason question that will likely be answered at training camp.
Do you have questions of your own? Tweet me @SamEkstrom to voice your two cents.
Today’s talker: Who will be starting at cornerback/nickelback?
The battles within the cornerback depth chart weren’t all that fierce in the 2015 offseason. Veteran Terence Newman was brought in as an upgrade at the outside cornerback spot, Captain Munnerlyn moved to a more comfortable position at the nickel, and Xavier Rhodes continued his high level of play against the opposition’s top receivers. Last year’s first-round pick Trae Waynes clearly needed some time to learn the craft, especially after watching him early in the preseason, which kept Newman fairly comfortable in his starting role throughout the regular season.
But Waynes is a year older now, as is the sage Newman, and Waynes looked better and better in spot duty late in the 2015 campaign. Those two will be battling it out for a Week 1 job.
The Vikings then made a somewhat surprising but preemptive draft selection in the second round to snatch Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who shapes up to be the Vikings’ starting nickelback in the near future. Though Captain Munnerlyn thrived playing in the slot in 2015, he’ll be entering a contract year at age 28. With up to four first-round picks needing extension money in the next two offseasons — not including Matt Kalil — it’s possible the Vikings plan to let Munnerlyn walk and need to groom his replacement in 2016.
So with two incumbent vets and two aspiring young guns duking it out, who wins the jobs?
Newman is certainly the more likely of the two veterans to be usurped. His motivation to rejoin Minnesota stemmed more from the opportunity to win his first Super Bowl than it did the promise of playing time, not to mention the Vikings were his only suitor, according to a June column from Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press. If Waynes grabs hold of the starting job, as the Vikings would likely prefer, that makes the almost-38-year-old Newman the ultimate backup, who could fill in at either cornerback spot, or even at safety in a pinch.
Like Waynes did last year, Alexander will probably spend a season on the heels of defensive backs coach Jerry Gray trying to learn the tricks of the trade. One of Cold Omaha’s draft experts, Arif Hasan, projects Alexander to be a very good player at the pro level, which may give Munnerlyn a good scare in training camp, but in the end it makes more sense to go with the guy who is in his prime, is coming off a strong 2015 and has three years of familiarity with Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme.
Ultimately, the Vikings are exhibiting a mature team-building process by addressing holes before they absolutely need to and molding young talent underneath savvy veterans. Whenever a team can coax vets into mentoring their own replacements – and not have any apparent upheaval – that’s the sign of a positive culture.
The cornerback battles will be spirited and give the Vikings not only three quality starting CBs, but two prepared backups as well.
Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen (Cumulus Media)