A.J. Jefferson wasn't completely surprised to see the Arizona Cardinals make a move at cornerback, but now that he's been traded to the Minnesota Vikings he sees opportunity.
"With the exception of Antoine (Winfield), we've got a lot of young guys. Everybody is young, so there's a lot of young talent that everybody can get better," Jefferson said.
Jefferson fits into that young plan. He is 24 years old, joining a secondary in which the starting safeties are expected to be Harrison Smith (23) and Mistral Raymond (24) and the starting cornerbacks are Antoine Winfield (35) and Chris Cook (25). Cornerback Josh Robinson (21), the youngest player on the team, and Jefferson could also see plenty of playing time as the season progresses.
"I'm going to try to make the transition as smooth as possible. The playbook is a little different where I'm coming from, but the coaches have been working with me day in and day out since I got here," Jefferson said. "Just trying to get caught up to speed so I can be out there on the field."
While the Vikings' youth movement was in full throat this offseason, head coach Leslie Frazier said age had nothing to do with the team's decision to cut ties with 29-year-old free-agent acquisition Chris Carr and trade for Jefferson on Saturday.
"Not at all. That never entered into the equation," Frazier said. "It was about what guy could fit what we're trying to get done on defense that would really help us have a chance to win on Sundays. And we felt like A.J. gave us some things we were looking for and that's why he's here."
He offers the possibility of contributing in the kickoff return game, too.
Jefferson was already in the rotation returning kicks at his first practice Monday, joining Percy Harvin and Josh Robison.
Last year, he returned 14 kickoffs for a 25.4-yard average for the Cardinals, but he entered the league with plenty of promise in that department. In 2007 at Fresno State, he was first in the nation with a 35.8-yard average on 26 returns and was the only player in school history to have kickoff returns for touchdowns in back-to-back games, going 88 yards against Utah State and 98 yards against Hawaii.
"If they want to throw me back there, I do some kick return," he said. "I'm real excited to get the ball in my hands whenever I can. If that's a possibility, I could do that too."
There is no lack of confidence on Jefferson's part to work his way into the cornerback rotation with the Vikings.
"They're getting a great player, a fast player, somebody that's competitive and a ball-hawk all around," he said.
In the last two seasons with the Cardinals, Jefferson has played in 18 games, starting seven and has one interception. But the Vikings like his size – 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds – and his versatility in coverage.
"We liked some things that he did with his cover ability. He has the ability to cover man and also play some zone coverage. Good press corner, but he can also play off. He's a willing tackler. We like that part of his game," Frazier said.
"We wanted a guy who could play some man coverage and he's shown that he has the strength to do that. His speed, his athleticism, he's a good kickoff return guy as well and he's a long guy."
At 24 years old, he could be around for a long time, too.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Jefferson brings size, kickoff potential
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