After the Minnesota Vikings defense suffered their worst campaign in Mike Zimmer’s tenure as head coach last year, the front office made it a priority to retool the unit in free agency. This included bringing in Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, and Mackensie Alexander to what was supposed to be a vastly improved secondary.
Zimmer even praised the group throughout the preseason, and it looked as if it might be a big bounce-back year for the secondary.
But I guess that’s why we play the games.
Many things went wrong in Sunday’s loss, but mishaps with the Vikings’ defensive backs were chief among them. Breeland, specifically, turned in a 26.0 PFF grade with five missed tackles. Overall, the veteran group let an extremely youthful Bengals receiving corps tear them up. Oh yeah, and next week they get DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, and Rondale Moore.
While the challenge ahead is alarming for all Vikings fans, second-year CB Cameron Dantzler should welcome it with open arms.
The 2020 All-Rookie corner was a healthy scratch against the Bengals after being beaten out by every other corner in training camp. This was particularly strange after he was the No. 1 corner on the team for most last year, but Dantzler did not look great in the preseason, and Zimmer made it clear that everybody must earn their spot.
Now he’s the subject of trade rumors. The San Francisco 49ers reached out to ask about a deal, but let’s kill that notion right now. Under no circumstances should the Vikings think about dishing one of their only corners who is on a long-term deal.
Since we got that out of the way, it’s time to bring it back to his play. The Mississippi product did not look great in the preseason, but he’s still got immense talent. In his final five-week stretch last year from Weeks 11 to 16, Dantzler only allowed a 51.6% completion percentage when targeted and picked off two passes. That’s impressive for a rookie playing as the No. 1 lockdown corner on defense.
Not to mention, his frame is any coach’s dream at his position. At 6’2”, he’s always had the reach, and this season he came into camp with a little additional weight. So, what’s the issue if he’s got the build and has the past performance?
Truth be told, there’s no answer other than that he got outplayed. But some of those same guys who outplayed him in training camp got torched against the Bengals. I saw it, you saw it, and hopefully, Dantzler himself uses it as motivation to up his own game. On top of that, the Vikings need him to step up. Arizona has one of the deeper receiving corps in the league, and while Peterson will match up against Hopkins in his revenge game, somebody needs to line up against Green.
Weirdly, it feels like a gift from the heavens to Dantzler, who matches up well on paper against Green. He’s a big receiver but has lost a step due to injury since his days with the Cincinnati Bengals.
So far in his career, Dantzler’s problem has been when he goes up against guys who are much quicker than him, but that wouldn’t be a problem against Green. He’d also be able to use his physicality to his advantage, especially a 6’4” receiver like Green.
Even a decent performance in Arizona would improve Dantzler’s standing with Zimmer and potentially give him better opportunities in future games. It’s early in the year, and Zimmer has historically shown that he’s willing to go with the hot hand.
GM Rick Spielman and Zimmer almost need him to succeed, given recent draft picks at the position. It’s an ongoing joke at this point that they love their defensive backs at the top of the draft, but none of them have really panned out. Recently, Mike Hughes was dealt after an unimpressive stint with the Vikings — then went on to have a game-sealing interception in his first game with the Kansas City Chiefs — and Jeff Gladney was cut after his arrest.
Given the perception that both of them could be on the proverbial hot seat, it seems as though Spielman and Zimmer could benefit greatly from Dantzler’s resurgence.
He will have to show it during this week’s practice, but it’d be shocking to see him as a healthy scratch in Week 2. Dantzler should be out there next week and have a good opportunity to perform well against a talented Cardinals team.
Everything is there for Dantzler to turn his 2021 campaign around; he just has to earn it on the field. Given what we’ve seen out of him in the past, it wouldn’t be shocking.