Frazier desires flexibility in the secondary

Leslie Frazier couldn't do what he wanted with the secondary last year because of injuries. The addition of a couple veterans, and what he hopes will be a draft pick, should help him implement changes. So, too, should the addition of Harrison Smith.

The Vikings drafted a starting safety that they will "pencil" in at free safety, but the addition of Harrison Smith with the 29th pick allows the team some flexibility in the back end of their defense.

The reviews on Smith, the Notre Dame product, are that he's better near the line of scrimmage – he did play some linebacker at Notre Dame, too – than he is in coverage. However, during his junior season, he had seven interceptions.

"He's pretty good close to the line of scrimmage. Some of that has to do with the fact that he played linebacker before, but he's a very good deep safety when it comes to being in the middle of the field or being half-field coverage," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "I think his junior year, he had seven picks when he got those playing deep. So the fact that he can play in the box or play deep, it's hard to find those guys. That's why the safety position is not as deep because it's hard to find guys that are able to do both. He has the ability to be effective in both areas."

Smith didn't have any interceptions as a senior. The reason, he said, was two-fold. He was covering tight ends more and playing closer to the line of scrimmage, but he also admitted to dropping some opportunities.

"I dropped a couple of balls that I could have made good plays (into) great plays, so those are things that moving forward I want to get better at and make them game-changing plays that can ultimately win games, he said.

Although it sounds like he is better suited to play strong safety, Frazier said Smith would initially start out at free safety with Jamarca Sanford staying in the role of strong safety. Depending on what else transpires in the draft and afterwards, that could all change – just like the game is changing what the Vikings look for in a safety.

"It's changing so much. You look at what's happening in college football, the way they spread all the receivers out. Tight ends are rarely attached to the formation anymore. They're flexed," Frazier said. "The game has changed a lot, which has made it very difficult to try and evaluate safeties. It's not the traditional way anymore. You're trying to find a guy that can execute out in space and Harrison is one of those guys that can. He can match up on a tight end out in space and it's hard to find a guy like that and you need that. Even in our division, you see what the tight ends are doing – they're flexing them out. These guys are not attached to the formation that often. But he has the ability to match up at times with tight ends."

Offenses have also found ways to exploit one-dimensional safeties by motioning tight ends. That's part of the reason the Vikings are looking to safeties that can cover and tackle equally as well.

"When we have a guy that has the flexibility to be either-or, that's the best for us as a defense because of the way people use tight ends now. They rarely let them stay stationary now. They're moving them all the time, so you want guys at the safety position that are interchangeable so you're not defining them as strong or free," Frazier said. "That's one of the evolutions of the safety position because of the evolution of the tight end position. The fact that he can line up to the tight end side or the open side, that was one of things that made him very attractive to us."

Frazier would also like to see the Vikings be able to play more single-high safety, which will require better play from his cornerbacks. The return of Chris Cook, who is back working out with teammates as part of the offseason condition program, should help.

"When Cedric (Griffin), when Antoine (Winfield) did a great job for us outside, that's when we were a really good defense. Our numbers were much better across the board when that happened, and then you look at the way we've been depleted the last couple of years in the secondary, we ended up playing a lot more zone than we want to," Frazier said. "We'd like to be able to get back to where we can match up on the outside and do some other things. But when we were our best, that's what we did. We were more balanced than we have been in the last couple of years. But the situation has dictated that and it's not what we want to be able to do."

The addition of cornerbacks Chris Carr and Zack Bowman, and the likely addition of another cornerback sometime in the draft, should help. Frazier said "ideally" they would like to find another cornerback who can play more man coverage to help free up a safety.

"It just makes us less predictable and makes it a little bit harder on quarterbacks," Frazier said.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" The Vikings drafted a starting safety that they will \"pencil\" in at free safety, but the addition of Harrison Smith with the 29th pick allows the team some flexibility in the back end of their defense. The reviews on Smith, the Notre Dame product, are that he's better near the line of scrimmage – he did play some linebacker at Notre Dame, too – than he is in coverage. However, during his junior season, he had seven interceptions. \"He's pretty good close to the line of scrimmage. Some of that has to do with the fact that he played linebacker before, but he's a very good deep safety when it comes to being in the middle of the field or being half-field coverage,\" Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. \"I think his junior year, he had seven picks when he got those playing deep. So the fact that he can play in the box or play deep, it's hard to find those guys. That's why the safety position is not as deep because it's hard to find guys that are able to do both. He has the ability to be effective in both areas.\" Smith didn't have any interceptions as a senior. The reason, he said, was two-fold. He was covering tight ends more and playing closer to the line of scrimmage, but he also admitted to dropping some opportunities. \"I dropped a couple of balls that I could have made good plays (into) great plays, so those are things that moving forward I want to get better at and make them game-changing plays that can ultimately win games, he said. Although it sounds like he is better suited to play strong safety, Frazier said Smith would initially start out at free safety with Jamarca Sanford staying in the role of strong safety. Depending on what else transpires in the draft and afterwards, that could all change – just like the game is changing what the Vikings look for in a safety. \"It's changing so much. You look at what's happening in college football, the way they spread all the receivers out. Tight ends are rarely attached to the formation anymore. They're flexed,\" Frazier said. \"The game has changed a lot, which has made it very difficult to try and evaluate safeties. It's not the traditional way anymore. You're trying to find a guy that can execute out in space and Harrison is one of those guys that can. He can match up on a tight end out in space and it's hard to find a guy like that and you need that. Even in our division, you see what the tight ends are doing – they're flexing them out. These guys are not attached to the formation that often. But he has the ability to match up at times with tight ends.\" Offenses have also found ways to exploit one-dimensional safeties by motioning tight ends. That's part of the reason the Vikings are looking to safeties that can cover and tackle equally as well. \"When we have a guy that has the flexibility to be either-or, that's the best for us as a defense because of the way people use tight ends now. They rarely let them stay stationary now. They're moving them all the time, so you want guys at the safety position that are interchangeable so you're not defining them as strong or free,\" Frazier said. \"That's one of the evolutions of the safety position because of the evolution of the tight end position. The fact that he can line up to the tight end side or the open side, that was one of things that made him very attractive to us.\" Frazier would also like to see the Vikings be able to play more single-high safety, which will require better play from his cornerbacks. The return of Chris Cook, who is back working out with teammates as part of the offseason condition program, should help. \"When Cedric (Griffin), when Antoine (Winfield) did a great job for us outside, that's when we were a really good defense. Our numbers were much better across the board when that happened, and then you look at the way we've been depleted the last couple of years in the secondary, we ended up playing a lot more zone than we want to,\" Frazier said. \"We'd like to be able to get back to where we can match up on the outside and do some other things. But when we were our best, that's what we did. We were more balanced than we have been in the last couple of years. But the situation has dictated that and it's not what we want to be able to do.\" The addition of cornerbacks Chris Carr and Zack Bowman, and the likely addition of another cornerback sometime in the draft, should help. Frazier said \"ideally\" they would like to find another cornerback who can play more man coverage to help free up a safety. \"It just makes us less predictable and makes it a little bit harder on quarterbacks,\" Frazier said. 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