After getting terse with the local media Monday following a number of questions concerning a former Viking rather than the current Vikings, it looked like Wednesday was going to be a repeat of short, curt answers when topics come up that head coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t want to discuss.
A bye week is typically a time for self-assessment by a coaching staff. It is a break in the action for a coaching staff to sit back and take a long, hard look at where the team has played well and where there are deficiencies.
Nobody would argue that free safety Harrison Smith isn’t playing at a high level. But, when it comes to the strong safety position, it would seem that four games into the season the Vikings still have lingering questions as to who is their best option.
Asked how he felt about the safety position at this point of the season, Zimmer gave a five-word answer – “I feel good about Harrison (Smith).”
When a follow-up question was asked about the other safeties on the roster, Zimmer gave another five-word answer – “It’s fluid. Keep working them.”
Hoping that the third question might be the charm, Zimmer was asked if the fluid situation was due to nobody being consistent enough to win the job outright to play opposite Smith, Zimmer’s economy of words drop to a two-word response – “Pretty much.”
The truth of the matter is that the Vikings have spent months trying to figure out who is best qualified to start with Smith in the middle of the Vikings defensive backfield and, to date, nobody has made the job his own.
Robert Blanton seemingly won the job by default last season, starting much of the year and putting in a relatively nondescript year. He wasn’t horrible, but he didn’t stand out as being a strength of the defense. In fact, after a lackluster preseason performance, Blanton lost the starting job.
Special teams ace Andrew Sendejo got the nod for the starting position, but his kamikaze style can be frustrating at times for a coaching staff. Sendejo plays at 100 miles per hour on all plays, which sometimes led to him being out of position. Against San Diego, Sendejo nearly took out Xavier Rhodes in a case of friendly fire. Sendejo has been given an opportunity, but hasn’t yet grabbed it for his own, a problem made more pronounced by a knee injury that has slowed him the last couple weeks.
Then there is Antone Exum. During the 2015 draft in April, both Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman extolled the virtues of Exum, proclaiming him a legitimate candidate for the starting safety spot. To date, Exum has played very little in the Vikings secondary and seemingly hasn’t lived up to the lofty praise thrown his way by Zimmer and Spielman.
As the Vikings begin their 12-game stretch to the finish line of the 2015 regular season, it would seem that many of their roster positions – both the starters and the pecking order of the backups – have been established. Players know who is scheduled to play where and how much playing time the backups can logically expect to receive.
At safety, that isn’t the case … at least not yet.
A bye week is often an opportunity for teams to make critical changes in the lineup, the rationale being that, if a switch is going to be made, giving the player a little extra preparation time before taking over a position will best enable him to make a smooth transition.
At safety, there is no certain answer.
Sendejo was given the job, but hasn’t done enough to make it a no-brainer that he keeps it. Blanton was again handed the starting job after Sendejo’s injury and couldn’t keep it. Exum has been largely MIA in the Vikings secondary.
At some point, the Vikings are going to make a final decision – whether that be to give the full-time starting job to one of those three players or play mix-and-match the rest of the season.
A quarter of the way into the season, there should be more answers than questions in the starting lineup. That doesn’t look like it applies to the strong safety position.