When the Minnesota Vikings released their final depth chart, there was one notable omission: a backup safety. Apparently this wasn’t a mistake, and the team is prepared to roll into Week 1 with no depth there unless they announce a roster move soon.
Convert someone to safety
With no backup safety on the roster, the Vikings could look to slide a player over from another position to fill in. Some options on the roster would be Kris Boyd, Holton Hill and Harrison Hand. They also reportedly toyed with Dan Chisena at the safety position in camp, and there have even been rumblings that Eric Wilson could move back and play some safety due to his elite athletic ability.
No matter what they do, shuffling the secondary around will have a negative trickle-down effect. First of all, an inexperienced player will end up at the safety position. While the team would certainly dumb down that player’s responsibilities and have whoever the healthy safety is take care of the primary duties, the new safety would be a liability. They may be unsure of their coverage responsibilities and could be picked on by Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps.
Not only will the safety position take a hit, but the corners could as well. If Hill is asked to move back to safety, then a young player like Cameron Dantzler could get bumped to the outside and Rodgers would likely attack this raw but talented player. Dantzler showed enough in camp to give fans and the team confidence in his ability, but facing an all-time great like Rodgers in Week 1 is an extremely daunting task.
Change coverages and schemes
To make up for the loss of a starting safety, the Vikings and Zimmer could opt to change up their coverages. The team could go with a single-high safety look, allowing the healthy safety to play zone coverage and guard the deep half of the field all to himself. Since the other safety in this formation is usually in the box playing close to the line of scrimmage, that role could go to a linebacker like Troy Dye or Ryan Connelly. This would make for the best use of the remaining personnel, and give Minnesota more players who aren’t finding themselves thrust into new roles and assignments.
The Vikings could also look to blitz more with a starting safety injured. If a player who is unfamiliar with the safety position is thrust into that role, he will no doubt be a liability. Minnesota could help that player out by increasing the pressure up front. In addition to having Yannick Ngakoue and Danielle Hunter (if healthy) come off the edge, the team could send a linebacker through the “A” gap. They could also move Ifeadi Odenigbo inside to the three-technique position and use his extremely quick get-off to generate interior pressure. If Rodgers has no time to throw the football, he won’t be able to take advantage of the personnel dilemma caused by an injury suffered to a starting safety.
Take preventative measures
The easiest and most obvious solution to this problem for the Vikings is to sign a veteran free agent who can come in and be the backup to Smith and Harris. The waiver wire is chock full of capable safeties who could all be had at a cost that would be very team-friendly. Some of the names available are Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Jahleel Addae, Kurt Coleman, Eric Reid and George Iloka. Iloka and Addae have already had workouts with the team and would be the most likely candidates.
Adding a veteran makes sense on many levels. It brings in a guy who wouldn’t take long to get up to speed with the defense, and give the Vikings an experienced option at safety who can step in and play for Smith or Harris in case they get hurt. These guys have been in the league for years and will be able to recognize and call out different formations — helping the young corners be ready for what an offense might do.
Minnesota has another option which they may reveal on Sunday morning. The team can call up two players per week from the practice squad and have Josh Metellus and Nate Meadors available. Both of these young players took plenty of reps at safety in camp and could come in and be ready to go on game day if need be. While they’d be much riskier than going with a veteran, they would be a safer option than just moving a player from corner to safety.
Whatever the Vikings end up doing, their approach to the safety position this year has been an unconventional one. It carries great risk, especially if a starter goes down with an injury.