Vikings deep with quality at cornerback

Gone is high-priced free agent Fred Smoot from the team, and yet as long as everyone is healthy the Vikings are clearly stronger at the cornerback position than they've been in many years. Take a look at who we see as the top five at the position heading into the team's preseason opener against the Rams…

During the days of Dennis Green, it seemed the Vikings were always in search of better cornerbacks.  A lot of different players were tried at the position but to no avail.  Remember names like Dewayne Washington, Jimmy Hitchcock, Robert Tate, Kenny Wright and their notorious coach, Richard Solomon?  Year in and year out the cornerback position was considered a weak link.

Under Mike Tice the team shelled out big bucks to cure the problem with the expensive signing of Fred Smoot to solidify the tandem with proven, reliable veteran Antoine Winfield on the other side.  But Smoot was clearly more trouble than he was worth, hated it in Minnesota and ultimately lost his starting job both seasons with the team.  He was jettisoned following last season and Mr. Smoot returned to Washington.

It now appears the Vikings have two solid starters in Winfield and second-year man Cedric Griffin.  Another, rookie Marcus McCauley, has seized the nickel-back job and could be good enough to start as a rookie if needed.  Dovonte Edwards has returned from a broken arm and looks like a solid nickel cornerback himself.  Another second-year player, Charles Gordon, has also looked good in training camp once again.

“It is good competition,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.  “Those guys are vying for a spot and they are performing well in practice.  It is going to be an interesting situation as time goes on.  It is still real early.  We still have a lot of time to evaluate people and they are playing very well, but we'll see how it goes once we start playing other opponents.”

In training camp so far, none have looked better than McCauley, who has stuck to receivers like glue with remarkable consistency.  He’s big, he’s fast and he’s physical.  He can run stride-for-stride with any of the team’s wide receivers in coverage and does not at all look like a rookie.

But Cedric Griffin has also been very sound.  Griffin has added a few pounds to his frame in hopes of holding up over the course of the long season a little better.  He’s shown no signs of losing anything in terms of quickness and speed and continues to be an extremely physical, hard-hitting cornerback.

Veteran Antoine Winfield, as always, is in terrific shape physically, has a keen understanding of the defensive scheme and remains pound-for-pound as good an open-field tackler as there is in the entire league.

Edwards can also run with the racehorses in pass coverage and has only grown in his confidence level from his previous two seasons with the team.  He is pesky and tenacious in coverage and looks to be a more-than-capable No. 3 cornerback.

The other guy who’s also stood out at times is Charles Gordon, who was having a strong training camp a year ago before a knee injury set him back.  Gordon isn’t necessarily that big or that fast for the stopwatch, but he is a quick-twitch athlete with flashes of dynamic talent and good ball skills.

The emergence of all these guys is a reflection of their position coach, Joe Woods, in our opinion.  Wood exudes confidence and enthusiasm on the practice field at a position that must have confidence, enthusiasm, and perhaps a short memory.

As long as everyone stays healthy, no matter who ends up starting and filling the nickel and dime defensive-back roles, the team’s No. 3 guy might be as good or better as players who have started at cornerback for more than the past decade.  That said, the next two guys in line are probably an improvement over obvious weak links in those roles in years gone by, as well.

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