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After criticism, Antone Exum hopes to make Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer happy

Antone Exum received some stern public criticism from Mike Zimmer and is hoping to change the coach’s mind.

Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with much that happened at Levi’s Stadium Monday night.

His Minnesota Vikings were embarrassed in Santa Clara and across the football-viewing, cable-dwelling country in a 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

There was the final score. There was a shaky performance from the normally unflappable Teddy Bridgewater. There was the 10-carry, 31-yard performance in Adrian Peterson’s return to football. And there was the defense – Zimmer’s baby – that gave up a league-high 230 yards on the ground.

It wasn’t just the front seven that played poorly against the run. Zimmer made a shakeup at safety, starting Andrew Sendejo and then switching to former starter Robert Blanton in the second half.

“It’s kind of a fluid situation right there. I’m just trying to – somebody give me confidence in that position, somebody I feel like is going to make the safe play and not the spectacular play,” Zimmer said. “I don’t really care about making the spectacular play; I want guys to make the safe plays. When he (Sendejo) missed those tackles, he got cut on the one force, then I said, ‘Hey, let’s put (Blanton) in and see if he can do anything.”

Which brought up a quick question on whether second-year safety Antone Exum was a possibility.

“He’s a possibility if he could ever figure out what to do. Once he figures out what to do, he can be a part of that discussion,” Zimmer said. “But if you don’t know what to do and you can’t do it when things are moving fast, that’s kind of why I started with Sendejo, because I felt like he’s a smart guy that knows what to do that will kind of be in the right place all of the time and we can have confidence in him making the correct plays,” Zimmer said.

Sure, Zimmer was blunt in his assessment of the play of Sendejo and Blanton, but Exum may have gotten the worst of it. The next day, Exum was aware of Zimmer’s comments.

Exum acknowledged that consistency in his play was “exactly” what needed to happen, but he’s keeping hope alive that at some point he can enter into starting contention.

“I’ve never lost hope in that,” Exum said. “It’s making the head coach happy so I’ve just got to continue to get better and if he thinks I still need to be grasping the defense, then I think so too.”

Zimmer said it’s “50/50” on whether Blanton or Sendejo would start Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. It seems apparent Exum isn’t in the discussion yet.

“I’ve just got to continue to get better,” he said. “I am a younger guy, but it’s not like (an excuse) or anything. I’ve just got to keep trying to get better and grasping the defense every day.”

Exum said he doesn’t feel like he’s behind in learning the defense, but he needs more consistency to earn the coach’s trust.

“Assignment, alignment, stuff like that,” Exum said.

“I wouldn’t say I’m behind. I just think I need to improve in that area to be more consistent with little things, day in and day out.”

Exum was a sixth-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2014, coming with experience at both safety and cornerback at Virginia Tech. To date, he hasn’t started a game, despite injury and performance concerns last year at safety.

As a rookie, he played only eight snaps on defense, so the skills that he brings to the table at the NFL level are still in question.

“That’s not important,” he said of what he can offer. “I’ve just got to get better at that so I can get a chance on the field to show some of those things.”


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