Surprise: Secondary Depth Now a Strength

The days of Wasswa Serwanga and Anthony Bass are gone. Now, with vastly improved depth in their secondary, the Vikings can afford to take their time with the return of Fred Smoot. Plus, get news and quotes on Spencer Johnson and Mewelde Moore.

Cornerback Fred Smoot might return to action in 11 days. Then again, he might not, but either way it doesn't really seem to concern the Vikings.

That's a testament to how far the franchise has come since defensive backs like Wasswa Serwanga and Anthony Bass were forced into starting roles for the Vikings when the talent they displayed wasn't commensurate with their responsibilities.

So what about now?

The Vikings are displaying what is probably the best depth in the defensive backfield – especially at cornerback – in a decade. That's evident in the team's willingness to wait until Smoot is ready instead of forcing him back into action too soon. The Vikings have decided to hold Smoot out of action for another week at least after reviewing results of a CT scan of his fractured collarbone performed Monday.

Even if Smoot had been ready to go in Detroit, he likely wouldn't have returned to a starting role immediately.

"If he is favoring that shoulder, I don't know that it is necessary to rush him back if he is not able to go full speed," head coach Mike Tice said Monday. "It has been a tough year for him, starting at training camp with the injury. Then he gets going and he has the Carolina day and the injury there. Then the injury the next week. It has been a rough year for him.

"I would like to see him out there with a lot of juice, a lot of confidence and able to use both arms. I am not comfortable having him suit up until then. The same thing too is every time you suit a guy up you have to sit a guy down. After four (wins) in a row, who do you sit down? It makes it tough."

In Smoot's stead, cornerback Brian Williams has performed admirably each of the last three games. For the season, Williams has 26 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, five passes defensed and five quarterback hurries. Smoot has 37 tackles, 11 passes defensed and one interception.

"He came in and took advantage of his opportunity and has been playing very well," cornerback Ralph Brown said of Williams' play.

Williams has been the starter the last three games while Smoot has been inactive, but others have also moved into more prominent roles, as Dovonte Edward became the dime back and produced an interception return for a touchdown against Green Bay two weeks ago.

With Smoot in the lineup, Williams is eventually expected to move to the nickel back and Brown become the dime back, but Brown said the way the Vikings have been approaching three-receiver sets means there isn't much of a difference in his playing time with or without Smoot.

"When Fred was in there, I was actually playing the same, people just didn't notice," Brown said. "I probably get six more snaps a game now that Fred's out because I'm the nickel. But we've been running dime most of the time instead of nickel (even when Fred was playing). We'd put Brian inside to cover the tight end and I'd go outside and play corner. My role probably won't change. Basically in dime we're putting our best athletes on the field."

Tice especially likes Williams' ability to blitz the quarterback, which may be one reason they move him inside to cover the tight end in some nickel and dime situations.

And the Vikings feel like they're finally stacked with depth in the defensive backfield, between Antoine Winfield, Smoot, Williams, Brown, Edwards and another undrafted rookie, Laroni Gallishaw.

"I felt our secondary depth this year was good," Tice said. "You talk to defensive head coaches because they know what they're talking about and a number of my peers have told me, Jeff Fischer for one, ‘Mike, you need five corners.' We haven't had five corners of the caliber that we have.

"We felt so much about young Laroni and Dovonte that we cut Ken Irvin, who was a class guy. But I felt in my heart these two young players were better players. Sometimes you keep an older guy and it slows down the growth of a younger guy, and I felt that was the case with these two young players. They're two fine young players. They've got a long way to go, they're going to make some mistakes, but they're out there playing fast and they're playing with tremendous confidence. "


OK, this time he means it.

It seems like a weekly inquiry into the health of defensive lineman Spencer Johnson, but this week he says he's ready and this week the Vikings need him since Kevin Williams will be out at least two weeks with a second-degree sprain of his right MCL.

Johnson, who has been battling his own sprained knees that made him a game-day inactive six out of the last seven weeks, said he practiced early last week like he was going to be active, but "as the week went on I could see me slowly getting pulled out of stuff, so I figured that (being inactive) was going to happen."

"I guess it all worked out alright because when he's going out I'm coming back. Hopefully I can go in there, stay in there and produce."

Johnson said he's probably about 90 to 95 percent on the health meter, but he has been frustrated with how long it took his right knee to heal.

"I had been compensating for the left and then went and sprained the right," he said.


The offense has been slow to come around this season with all the changes in the offensive line and at quarterback, with Brad Johnson taking over for the injured Daunte Culpepper, but running back Mewelde Moore doesn't seem too concerned as long as the Vikings continue to win games.

"Offense usually comes around slow anyway. With the type of things we had, we were basically trying to take a slow approach to stuff and make sure we take care of the football. From there, we could allow our abilities to take over," Moore said. "With the change in quarterbacks, we just all had to understand that we had to a get a new relationship with the quarterback and understand what we were doing. Brad's been doing a great job field generalling. Right now we're clicking and we just want to stay clicking. I don't care how it's getting done, as long as it's getting done."

To make up for the lack of offensive fireworks, the Vikings defense has been setting up the offense on a short field and even scoring their own points. Moore, for one, is appreciative of the defensive assistance.

"The defense is scoring 30 points. They're definitely doing their job in making turnovers and making big plays," he said. "As far as we're concerned, our main objective is to score one more point than the opposing team."

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