Prater embraces safety, will play wherever

Shaun Prater is getting some practice at safety but remains primarily a cornerback.

Shaun Prater isn’t sure when he’ll get on the field. He isn’t even sure what position he’ll be playing when that happens.

The third-year pro out of Iowa just knows he wants to be there, whatever gets him there.

“You’re damn right,” he said.

Those were actually the closing words of an interview with the Minnesota Vikings defensive back that showed how much he wants to establish himself on the field. He’s hoping the timeline is soon and, frankly, he doesn’t seem to care what position he’s in when it happens.

So far, Prater has been used as a cornerback in games last year and again this preseason. But he has also gotten some work at safety in practice.

“He’s playing corner and nickel like he’s always played, but I told you awhile back that I might even look at him some at safety and he’s been playing safety on the scout team, so I thought I’d just give him some drills there,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Honestly, we’re trying to see what guys can do and how many guys you might need at emergency safety and he’s got to know what to do when you go in there. That’s no different than teaching other guys on the defensive line to play linebacker.”

Some players hesitate at a position change. Not Prater. If it will get him on the field quicker, he’s in. In fact, safety was the position he wanted to play as he entered Iowa.

“Honestly, going into college, I wanted to play safety. I always wanted to play safety,” Prater said. “I think it’s pretty easy compared to corner. Corner is a lot of work. Safety is a lot of mental work, but wherever Zim feels comfortable playing me on the field, I’m going to study, I’m going to show up and I’m going to do my job.”

Prater got his best opportunity with the Vikings at the end of last season. With injuries piling up at cornerback, he made his first career start against Philadelphia on Dec. 15, resulting in his first interception – one of only two that Eagles QB Nick Foles threw last year. The fact that he started the 2013 season with Philadelphia had to make his first start even sweeter.

In the next game against Cincinnati, where Zimmer was the defensive coordinator, Prater had a career-high three passes defensed. He started the season finale, too.

In all, Prater played in eight games for the Vikings last year, registering six tackles on defense and three on special teams.

But as the Vikings start the season Sunday, Prater is listed as a third-string cornerback.

“I’m pretty used to this process – last year it took, what, four guys to get hurt and I came in and was able to start and prove that I can play,” he said. “I’m being patient, I’m working hard in practice, not taking any days off. People say you made the team, but that doesn’t mean anything. You could still be cut Week 1 to Week 16. So I’m still playing. I’m showing what I can do and hopefully they will see my value.”

Zimmer, who was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati in 2012 when Prater was drafted in the fifth round and spent the season there on injured reserve, likes versatile players and sees that potential in Prater.

“When I was in Cincinnati I had a corner that played nickel corner and safety (Nate Clements), so he was a defensive back and defensive backs play defensive back, however we need to use him,” Zimmer said.

Prater believes his previous experience with Zimmer is an advantage and he is comfortable making calls on the field, which would happen more at the safety position than cornerback. He figures playing the nickel cornerback in Zimmer’s defense, which he has done, is “sort of” similar to playing safety.

But where he plays doesn’t matter to Prater as much as when he plays.

“I don’t care. I really don’t care. Football is football. Defense is defense,” he said.

“Wherever they put me, I feel comfortable playing. I just want to get on the field and showcase that I can play and take it from there.”

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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