What was widely speculated in the weeks leading up to the 2012 NFL draft and the days following the selection of Notre Dame cornerback Robert Blanton by the Vikings would appear to be set in stone – Blanton is a safety.
When the Vikings released the names of the 71 players who were going to take part in last weekend's minicamp, Blanton, as expected, was listed as a safety. At Notre Dame, he played almost exclusively at cornerback, but is no stranger to the safety position. He understands that the Vikings have a need at safety – former starters Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson are not on the current roster – and is ready to help fill that void.
"I have some experience at safety," Blanton said. "Obviously, not as much as I have at cornerback, but I spent quite of bit of time in practice playing there. In my junior year, I played a couple of games there, so I'm not completely unfamiliar with it. I'm getting a lot of experience out here and getting a lot of reps. The more work I can get there, the better. I'm loving it."
Blanton had no idea where he would end up landing on draft weekend. There was just as good a chance, if not more so, that he would end up on a team with an established starting tandem at safety and cornerback and would be drafted for purposes of depth as coming to a team with a potential starting vacancy. Like someone shopping for a house or a new car, Blanton identified several teams that he thought would be ideal landing spots in the draft, but realized that his wishes or desires weren't going to be taken into account and all he could do was wait and hope for the best.
"There were some teams I was looking at that might have needs, but you don't have any control over what team takes you," Blanton said. "Looking at the opportunities available here, this is a great spot for me to be. I didn't know if the Vikings had me in their plans, but I feel blessed that I landed here and they see me as someone who can compete for a starting job."
The move from cornerback to safety isn't as simple as it may seem. The Vikings coaching staff consistently claims that their safety positions are interchangeable and shouldn't be viewed in terms of strong safety and free safety, but the skill sets between cornerback and safety are so different that the most veteran of Vikings cornerbacks balked at the assertion that he move to safety last year.
At the end of last season, it was clear that Johnson wouldn't be coming back and the Vikings haven't re-signed Abdullah, creating a void at the safety position. Antoine Winfield was asked his thoughts about potentially moving to safety and he shot that notion down in no uncertain terms. He stated that the job descriptions of the two positions are vastly different and he would have no interest in making the switch so late in his career.
Winfield has earned the right to say "no" to such a proposal. As a rookie, Blanton has no such sway with the coaching staff. But that's fine with him. He said his experience in the secondary at Notre Dame – both at cornerback and safety – will suit him fine. He just wants to get on the field by any means necessary, whether it's at cornerback or safety, and he has a wealth of experience running a defense in college that is strikingly similar to what the Vikings run. Given his experience at multiple positions for the Fighting Irish, he is confident he can make a seamless transition, especially given the circumstances this year that were denied rookies last year.
"Playing cornerback in a Cover-2, your assignments are a lot different than at safety," Blanton said. "That's part of the learning process that I'm getting into now. I'm just happy we don't have a lockout like there was last year, because I wouldn't be learning what I'm learning now on the field until training camp. There's a lot of responsibility at safety. You have to be able to cover the middle, cover the deep ball and come in behind the linebackers on running plays. It's different, but it's something you can learn if you're willing to put in the work."
One of the most readily noticeable aspects of the rookie minicamp was that some players were a bit over their heads in terms of knowledge of what the Vikings run offensively and defensively. Players would be out of position. Coaches spent a lot of time working on subtle technique issues. At times, some of the players seemed overwhelmed by information overload. Blanton wasn't one of those players and believes his learning curve won't be as difficult as many of his fellow rookies will endure.
"I can't speak for other people, but just speaking for myself, I would say no," Blanton said. "I knew our defense inside and out – corner, safety, linebacker. I had to play multiple positions. We played Cover-2 and man-to-man at Notre Dame. Those are the two base coverages here and were the two base coverages we had there. I know the ins and outs of all those positions, so the transition has been pretty smooth for me so far."
Blanton expects his knowledge of the Vikings defense will be vastly greater by the time training camp opens in late July than it is now and, by the time the regular season starts in September, he will be ready to go – in whatever role he asked to fill. He is hopeful he will be in the starting lineup and is prepared to do his part to prevent big games from players like Calvin Johnson of the Lions, Brandon Marshall of the Bears and Greg Jennings of the Packers. It will admittedly be an apprenticeship by fire, but something Blanton said he is ready to attack head-on.
"I haven't gone up against any of those guys yet, so it's going to be something new," Blanton said. "They're all great players, but we have a lot of great players, too. They will be a challenge, but that's what I'm here for – to take on challenges, make plays and help the Vikings win games."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Blanton takes on challenges at safety
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