Patient approach applies in secondary, too

Leslie Frazier appears willing to stick with his rotation of young cornerbacks without making any drastic changes, even as he admits there have been struggles that the film confirms.

Just as it appears there may not be a change made at quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings, the only changes made in the secondary could be the result of players returning from injury.

Right cornerback Chris Cook (groin) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) are expected back at practice next week after the Vikings return from their bye, but head coach Leslie Frazier doesn't sound a like he's willing to elevate the snaps of first-round pick Xavier Rhodes in front of starter Josh Robinson at left cornerback.

"Xavier is doing some good things. He's playing a lot in our nickel package, which almost equates to being a starter with the number of snaps he gets," Frazier said. "But we'll see how he continues to progress. Josh has had some ups and downs, but we think he's going to get better. But we'll evaluate that coming out of the bye."

On Sunday, Marcus Sherels took over for Cook and played in all but two defensive snaps, just as Robinson did on the left side. Rhodes, who played when the Vikings needed a fifth defensive back on the field, played in 70 percent of the 79 defensive snaps against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London.

Receivers in Robinson's area were targeted 14 times and he allowed 12 catches, according to the stats-based web site Pro Football Focus. Over the course of four games, Robinson has allowed 91.9 percent of targets in his area to be completed for 377 yards.

"He's had some struggles, in particular inside playing the nickel position. That's been a challenge for him with all the things we ask that position to do," Frazier said. "He's had some good moments. He's had some moments I'm sure he would look back at at the end of these four weeks and say, ‘Man, I can do that better,' and we think he will.

"He just has to continue to gain some experience and hopefully we'll get better because of that as he gains more experience. But we knew going in this offseason and even in training camp that there were going to be some comments that we were going to have to work through and we're experiencing some of that, but he's doing some good things as well."

The Steelers targeted Robinson often, including their last drive of the game as they drove 72 yards down to the Vikings' 6-yard line before Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger fumbled away his final opportunity. Robinson was targeted eight times in the fourth quarter, including twice on the final drive, both completions.

However, Rhodes wasn't blameless in that final series, either. On the Steelers' first play on that drive, he gambled and tried to intercept a Roethlisberger pass to Jerricho Cotchery. Instead, Rhodes didn't get there soon enough, Cotchery caught it and ran for a 35-yard gain.

"If he makes that play, the game's over. I like the aggressiveness," Frazier said. "We worked on that play, we anticipated it. He was there. He came up a little bit short. You'd like to believe if we were in that situation again as he gains more experience he's going to make that play, so you don't want to stifle that aggressiveness at the corner.

"The fact that he had enough gumption to go try it, that's a good thing. But if you don't make the interception, you've got to make the tackle. You can't do both, but he'll learn from it. Fortunately, we survived it, but that's part of some youth in the secondary."

Robinson played in the Vikings nickel defense last year. When he entered the game then, veteran Antoine Winfield could slide inside to cover the slot receiver, but the Vikings released Winfield in March in a cost-cutting move.

Winfield signed with the Seattle Seahawks after his release, but he didn't make their final roster and remains a free agent. Frazier didn't dismiss the possibility of re-signing Winfield, but Vikings have made a concerted effort to get younger and appear willing to be patient for younger players to develop.

"We've talked about a lot of things. We got beat up a little bit in the secondary. We knew going in we'd have some new guys playing some positions that there were going to be some growing pains along the way. We're experiencing some of that," Frazier said when asked about Winfield. "But we've got to keep bringing them along and keep hoping that they're going to improve, which they are. They are improving in some areas. This bye week should help us. But we've talked about a lot of things and ways we can try and help our secondary."

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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