Jabari Price never thought he’d be drafted by the Minnesota Vikings because of their apparent lack of interest.
Price talked to Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray just once at the NFL Scouting Combine, a talk he said lasted only 10 minutes and didn’t get much more involved than giving his contact information to them. More than two months later, the Vikings were making Price their last selection of the draft, a day he called a “dream come true.”
But, as many NFL players do, he is using his final-round draft status as motivation.
“There’s not a day that I wake up that I don’t forget I was the last pick. Once you step on the field all of that goes out the window. I really don’t care,” he said. “I could have went in the first, I could have went in the seventh. It’s important for me to leave it all out there on the field and study and earn the trust of this coaching staff, try to make plays.”
So far, he’s flying above their expectations. With a hamstring injury that sidelined cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for essentially the first week of training camp, Price has taken full advantage.
Somewhat surprisingly, Price was getting numerous turns with the first-team defense when Munnerlyn was out and performing so well that head coach Mike Zimmer, an aficionado of defensive back play, already thinks they may have hit on something good.
“Initially it was attrition, but for a guy that had I think one day in OTAs (playing in the nickel), he’s doing a pretty nice job, really,” Zimmer said of Price being elevated on the injury-induced depth chart. “Honestly, he’s done a nice job in everything. When he’s outside, he does a good job. When he’s playing in nickel, he’s doing a good job. Anytime you can hit on a seventh-round corner, that’s huge. We don’t know if we hit yet, but he’s doing a good job.”
For Price, it was a matter of better late than undrafted. Still, even though he said he’s past the fact that he lasted 225th overall pick in the draft, he continues to use it for motivation.
“Most definitely. This staff definitely saw something in me that they gave me a chance that no one else did,” Price said. “So it’s important for me to go out there and put it all out there on the line for them and this team, make this team a better place and try to find a role on all four phases of special teams, whether it’s defense, whether it’s nickel, whatever it is, I got to find a role.”
If Price is used at all in the regular season, it’s mostly going to come in the slot in the nickel or dime defense. He played primarily in the slot as a junior at North Carolina before switching to the outside in a move he said was made to make his college defense better.
“For the most part I’m a hands-on type of guy. I come up and support the run as well as cover, so I don’t want to be one-dimensional as far as what corners are being known for these days. I try to step outside the box and be physical like this defense was, how this defense was in the past, and definitely try to live up to the expectations of Coach Zimmer,” he said.
“Once you get a guy out of his comfort zone, you pretty much got him. As we watch on tape and from the installs and stuff, you can’t play this defense being nice. There’s only one way to play this game and that’s physical, smart and fast. I’m definitely trying to adjust my playing style with that and make the most of it.”
Price has taken notice of Zimmer’s hands-on approach. The former defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator talks about technique with all levels of the defense, but he’s most well-versed in the defensive backfield.
There is little doubt that Price has left a positive impression on Zimmer with his initial play.
“He’s got some toughness to him. He’ll compete each and every time,” Zimmer said. “He’s got some fight to him. He’s a good athlete. He can get in and out of cuts and he can run. The mental part he’s still trying to work on. But he’s doing a great job so far.”
Price said he is quickly learning that his impressive athleticism alone won’t cut it in the NFL. There are plenty of techniques for him to learn in a complicated defensive scheme being implemented by Zimmer.
His notebook has been getting filled on a daily basis.
“I pull out a book. Every time he says something to me I write it down. You don’t want to be a repeat offender in this league and that’s a quick way out. So, just try to write it down and make the most of my opportunity, just basically do what he asks,” he said.
“Top to bottom just instruction, but it’s this or do that. Too high, you’re too low, wrong foot, false step – just don’t want to be a repeat offender. Basically just taking the installs, go home studying, make the most of it and ask the coach if he has questions the next day and you write down your answers, so that’s basically the approach I take.”
He came in looking to learn the defense early, knowing that too many mistakes at the outset of camp would lead to an early exit experienced by so many seventh-round selections.
His immersion to Minnesota was also an ironic turn of events. He initially committed to the Minnesota Gophers after earning All-Broward County honors at Ely High in Pompano Beach, Fla. However, his mother wanted to watch him perform in college and he switched his commitment to North Carolina.
The Minnesota weather might have also played a factor in his final decision.
“I heard (a Minnesota winter) was nothing like I could imagine. Some of the veteran guys warned me and I kind of threw it to the side, but I guess I get to witness it first-hand,” he said. “I’ve got to start buying winter clothes, to be honest. Coming from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I don’t have any. If anything, I’ve got to go to Mall of America.”
“… By the grace of God I’m back.”
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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