Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cornerback: The Toughest Training Camp Battle

Photo: Kirby Lee-

The secondary is stacked with some excellent young talent, but how will it be structured for the 53-man roster? Daniel House explains why the defensive back position might be the most vicious training camp battle in Mankato. 

Updated: June 29th, 2016 11:36am

By: Daniel House

It seems like it was just 2010 and the Vikings had one of the worst defensive back groups in the entire league. In just a few short years, Mike Zimmer and his defensive coaches have built the secondary with a talented set of cornerbacks. They have formulated the defensive backfield through the draft and free agency. Early in his tenure, Mike Zimmer taught the cornerbacks to press at the line of scrimmage and play physical. The way young players like Xavier Rhodes adapted to the new technique and philosophy, shows the defensive back whisperer Mike Zimmer is. It propelled Rhodes as he became one of the most integral aspects of the Vikings defense.

With other position groups on the roster being deep, the secondary will be one of the most difficult positions to cut down in training camp. The Vikings invested a draft pick to add Mackensie Alexander to an already deep defensive back group. 2015 first round pick Trae Waynes is entering his second season and will have another year under his belt in the system. Aside from Rhodes, Waynes, and Alexander, it leaves four other players battling for two or three spots. Captain Munnerlyn improved and finally bought into the system in 2015. It's hard to see him not making the roster with one year left on his contract. Terence Newman returned on a 1-year deal and will be the starter if Trae Waynes isn't ready to take full-time snaps. However, if Waynes is ready, could the coaches decide to release Newman? It would mean they have plenty of confidence in Jabari Price. Additionally, it shows that they value the special teams contributions of Marcus Sherels. Sherels doesn't provide much value as a cornerback, but his punt return abilities might be enough to keep him around. What's more, the team just signed him to a new two-year contract. It's hard to believe he would have been re-signed with $1.5 million guaranteed if they didn't see him being a part of the future plans.

What I'm trying to illustrate is that the room is crowded. It is very rare for a team to keep six cornerbacks on their 53-man roster. The only locks to make the team are Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander, and Trae Waynes. It's hard to believe Captain Munnerlyn would be released. The coaches would need to have some heavy confidence with Jabari Price to make that happen. Marcus Sherels was re-signed and it's hard to believe they would eat his contract by parting ways.

That means this could be the mix if the Vikings stick to tradition and keep five cornerbacks:

Xavier Rhodes
Mackensie Alexander
Trae Waynes
Captain Munnerlyn
Marcus Sherels 

Mike Zimmer has always expressed his pleasure for coaching Jabari Price, but with Captain Munnerlyn's improvement and Marcus Sherels' special teams contributions, there is no space. Additionally, it's hard to imagine the team without Terence Newman. He performed very well in 2015 and was the leader in the secondary. If they part ways with him, it will be a huge vote of confidence for Trae Waynes.

This entire debate could be meaningless if the Vikings keep six cornerbacks. It certainly would make the debate less difficult. The final spot would come down to Jabari Price and Terence Newman. If Trae Waynes is ready to start, the coaches might keep Jabari Price and part ways with Newman. However, it would be more difficult to release Newman if they aren't confident in Waynes.

Keeping six cornerbacks would be tough with an already crowded roster. The offensive line has plenty of bodies for depth and competition. In addition, the safety and linebacker positions are far from settled too. The roster construction must be more creative if keeping six cornerbacks is desired. It might start by eliminating the fullback position, keeping two quarterbacks, or trimming the wide receiver group down to five.

This training camp is shaping up to be a vicious battle for several position groups. With that being said, there could be two or three surprising cuts this year. The way one position is structured will have a major impact on another. However, the secondary might have the most significant impact on how the other roster decisions are made.

This year, the secondary is deep, but that is an excellent problem to have in a passing league.

Note: To hear Arif Hasan and I chat about the secondary in-depth, check out the latest episode of the Norse Code Podcast.

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