Mackensie Alexander was one of the best interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine, supremely confident in his abilities.
“I’m a competitor, and they’re all competitors, but at the end of the day I’m going to say it – and a lot of you guys will say it – I’m the best corner in this draft class,” Alexander said with supreme confidence in February. “You know what I mean? If you look at stats, my numbers, who I am as a person, who I’m competing against – I went against the best receivers in the country. I went against more of the top receivers than anybody in this draft class, and I’m going step for step. I’m not just moving outside, I’m going inside. I’m playing zone, I’m able to blitz, I’m able to show my versatility, everything.”
Not every NFL team agreed with his assessment of him as the best. Three cornerbacks went in the first 11 picks – Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey to the Jaguars, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves to the Buccaneers and Ohio State’s Eli Apple to the Giants.
It wasn’t until the 23rd pick – of the second round – that the Minnesota Vikings made what is looking like a very solid value pick in Alexander while maintaining their three top cornerbacks from 2015 and having selected Trae Wayne in the first round last year.
Alexander has had to swallow some of that predraft pride – or at least the outwardly boastful part of it – as he learned the Vikings defense and head coach Mike Zimmer’s meticulous ways with cornerbacks.
“Of course,” he admitted on Thursday. “Every guy is going to come in (and) you’re confident in yourself, but at the same time you’ve got to learn something new. Once you learn it, you start seeing that again and I think you are starting to see a little bit more of that from me. I’m playing and just going out there and making plays and just being confident in my abilities and playing within the defense. That’s definitely coming for sure.”
With increased knowledge, time to put the tips and techniques into practice, and two preseason games under his belt, the swagger is returning. And Zimmer embraces the confidence as long as it is backed up with results on the field.
The coach is seeing the progress.
“A lot, especially from where he was. He has still got a long ways to go, but he has got great quickness. He has got great confidence. He has got great competitiveness,” Zimmer said. “He’s very, very quick, and he wants to challenge receivers. Those are things I’ve seen a lot these last 10 days or something. I think his technique is getting better. He’s playing a couple different spots, but he’s used to it. The right side, left side doesn’t bother him.”
The Vikings have used Alexander as a nickel cornerback covering slot receivers and on the outside. With a hamstring injury for Xavier Rhodes, Alexander is likely to get increased playing time with tougher competition in Sunday’s third preseason game.
This week, he has gotten more practice time with the first-team defense with Rhodes out and veteran Terence Newman limited.
“Every day is an opportunity, whether a guy is out or in. It doesn’t matter. The league is all about the opportunity to compete and the coaches are doing a great job with me,” Alexander said.
“Now that I have a better understanding of the whole defense, it’s more about playing faster and making adjustments and just playing fast. Playing fast and consistent, that’s been the biggest emphasis that I’ve been putting on myself, that the staff has been putting on me, especially with Coach (Jerry) Gray.”
While he seemed to be swimming in technique and assignments during spring practices, which is expected of rookies trying to transition to the NFL, the last few weeks he looks to have hit his stride.
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His interception in the preseason opener – he didn’t have one in college – is just one example of his progress. His reaction to it is another example of his confidence, saying he ran the route for the receiver.
“It was fun. I just look at my overall game. That interception was one little thing,” Alexander said. “I was just in the right situation, right position, ran his route for him. In the league, it’s all about timing. The routes that come are based off time and the quarterback has got to let it go. It was great, but I’m focusing on the bigger task and just getting better every day.”
Sure, there are things Alexander needs to improve. Like all young guys that played cornerback in college, Zimmer said, he can be a “little bit grabby,” but Alexander once again showed self-assurance.
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“The refs are a little bit iffy at times, but you’ve just got to talk to them and make sure you come to practice and learn what not to do,” he said. “I’ve got pretty good feet, so that helps me keep my hands off and just play football.”
He should get plenty of chances to play football on Sunday, and maybe again on Thursday, in an effort to earn spot playing time during the regular season.
If and when he does, you know he won’t lack confidence.null