Matthew Stafford wasted no time challenging the Minnesota Vikings secondary last Sunday, firing a deep shot down the left sideline for Marvin Hall Jr..
Kris Boyd, making his second start of the season, tracked it the whole way. The second-year corner repelled the deep ball, which wound up being the start of a rough day for Stafford.
“Everybody’s getting their hands on the ball today,” Boyd exclaimed from the sideline on a Mic’d Up video produced by the Vikings.
Stafford threw two interceptions and didn’t complete a ball for more than 15 yards on the afternoon. The two primary corners were Boyd and Jeff Gladney, a pair of young players from northeast Texas that have taken charge in the Vikings secondary after a rash of injuries left them thin.
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The connection between the two goes back to high school, where the two competed for recruiters’ attention in the same region: Boyd at Gilmer, Gladney at New Boston. That thread continued into college as they vied for pro scouts’ attention, Boyd playing for Texas, Gladney for TCU.
“Me and Kris go way back. High school, we used to scrimmage each other. We’re from the same area, 903 boys,” Gladney said in a Vikings.com interview, referring to the northeast Texas area code. “Played in high school, both went to the Big 12, played each other, and now we’re on the same team in the NFL. It’s kind of really cool.”
Six rounds separated the two in draft position — Gladney a first-rounder, Boyd a seventh-rounder — but circumstance has tabbed them as two of the Vikings’ most important defensive backs entering the second half of the season.
Boyd shaped up as the Vikings’ fifth cornerback before the season, but he’s seemingly entrenched as one of the team’s top three corners for the foreseeable future thanks to injuries to Mike Hughes and Holton Hill. He has found himself in a position of leadership thanks to two years of experience in the team’s system, more than rookies Gladney, Cameron Dantzler or Harrison Hand.
“I think the more you play in our system and you understand the technique, I think that helps with your overall play,” said co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer. “Kris has gotten a lot better since he’s gotten here. He’s worked on the technique. He’s a kid that works extremely hard on the technique, and if you give him something to work on, he’s going to work on it over and over again. I think he’s playing with better technique and better discipline within the scheme, and I think that helped him out on Sunday.”
Gladney was the higher-graded college recruit and the 25th overall draft pick. He’s started a team-high seven games at corner and has been virtually the only corner to avoid injury after having a minor offseason knee surgery. Boyd battled back from a hamstring tweak that he claimed was his first football injury. The two co-led Minnesota’s defensive effort last Sunday in at least one area, recording three run stops each.
Neither are short on confidence, the type that can sometimes needle at opponents.
“Nick kick!” Boyd yelled at Lions kicker Matt Prater after he missed a first quarter field goal, one of his many sound bites on the day.
The second-year corner is talkative and tenacious, not very different from his Texas brethren Gladney, who jawed with Seahawks star receiver D.K. Metcalf in Week 5 and got into some dust-ups in college as well.
“Confidence, not cockiness,” Gladney said. “I’m not going to back down to anyone.”
Minnesota is playing more confidently on defense with the pass defense playing capably enough to help log wins over Green Bay and Detroit.With Gladney and Boyd getting extended time, the Vikings have allowed just 21 points per game over the last two weeks.
“The defense has been good,” Boyd said. “The energy’s there. We’re syncing together as one. As you’ve seen, we’re all out there moving around, communicating, everything. We’re all just buying in like we know how important it is for us to go out there and do our job all together all as one, and that’s all it takes.”
Said Gladney of the group’s improvement: “Just everyone knowing the scheme, knowing where our help is. We’re all learning. All of us are learning really good around the board and just seeing where the pieces fit. Just balling, really.”
It’s been hard for any Vikings cornerbacks to generate rapport with each other due to myriad injuries, but Boyd and Gladney’s existing relationship provides a baseline of chemistry. The two typically find each other on the bench between drives to chat about what’s happening on the field — or to wonder whether they’re making enough plays to get featured on the Vikings social media account.
They did, as it turns out. And head coach Mike Zimmer appreciates their development.
“I think Kris played a lot more disciplined,” said Zimmer. “He missed the one tackle, but I think he played a lot more disciplined. Jeff continues to get better each and every week as far as understanding things, understanding his role and what the offense is capable of.”