Backup D-backs will be in high demand

Cornerback Benny Sapp is trying to overcome a three-penalty game for him, and it will come with a tough assignment of Cardinals wide receivers Sunday. Marcus McCauley could also see his most action of the season. See what the backup defensive backs had to say about their formidable assignments in the desert.

Cornerback Benny Sapp made his third start of the season in Detroit last week, and his second in a row, as the Vikings' nickel cornerback. Because of penalties, it didn't go well.

Sapp was called for defensive offside twice in the Lions' first drive, but his penalty in the third quarter was far more costly. A third-down holding penalty on Sapp negated what would have been a drive-ending sack for linebacker Chad Greenway. On the next play, the Lions struck gold when Daunte Culpepper connected with Calvin Johnson for a 70-yard touchdown – Detroit's only touchdown of the day.

Through it all, Sapp returned to Winter Park this week still confident in his abilities and determined not to beat himself up over the penalties.

"We talked about it. You look on film, what happened and we talked about it. If I was a ref, me personally, I wouldn't have made those calls. It was like a hairline over the line," he said, saying that cornerbacks are usually given a warning before they are penalized.

"I've never had the call before in my life, and twice in the same game. That just let's you know what type of game that was. You've just got to work through it and watch out for those mistakes – minor, minor mistakes – and live to play another down."

Sapp said he's not worried about becoming a target of either the officials or opposing coordinators because of his multiple-penalty game. And he repeated that he wasn't going to let the defensive holding call change his aggressive style of play.

"We got tangled up a little bit. That's football. Call it what you want to call it. That's just me. I'm going to play tight coverage. They want us to play tight coverage," he said. "I'm going to do my best not to touch you before the ball gets there, but for the most part I'm going to try to stay as close to you as possible. If it's aggressive, it's aggressive. I can't change my game because of that."

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier can appreciated Sapp's approach.

"I do like his energy and enthusiasm and the way he competes. I love the way he competes," Frazier said. "We always talk to all our guys about the different things that you have to do to be successful in this league and he understands what he has to do and what we're asking of him. He just has to be conscious of playing within the rules and getting the job done at the same time. You don't want to take away his aggressiveness. That's one of the reasons we signed him."

Sapp's performance this Sunday will be important. The Arizona Cardinals might have the best set of three-deep wide receivers in the league. Anquan Boldin (1,004) and Larry Fitzgerald (1,148) have already broken the 1,000-yard barrier this season and third receiver Steve Breaston is on pace for 1,062 yards.

"Anquan is physical – great after the catch, good route runner. Fitzgerald is a bigger receiver, attacks the ball pretty well. And Breaston, he's pretty good to be at the year he's in right now, a young cat. He's pretty fast. He's got great hands," Sapp said. "All of them are great after the catch. That's the main thing you worry about because they're going to catch some balls. One of them is going to catch it. It's just when they catch it, make the tackle."

The Cardinals are the only team with three receivers with more than 800 yards. A month ago in Seattle, Fitzgerald and Boldin became only the third receiving duo in NFL history to have at least 150 yards receiving and 10 catches – each. (The Vikings' once-great tandem of Cris Carter and Jake Reed or Carter and Randy Moss weren't even productive enough to make that list.)

If the Cards' trio each reaches 1,000 yards, it would only be the fifth time in NFL history that's been accomplished. It all has Sapp realizing that he'll see plenty of redemption opportunities on Sunday.

"This is going to be a big challenge for us – for me and the rest of the secondary. We're a focused group," Sapp said. "This will probably be the most action I'll see all year, so I've got to make the best of it."

Dime cornerback Marcus McCauley feels the same way. At one point earlier in the year, he was expected to compete for the nickel back role. Charles Gordon won that before a broken ankle ended his season midway through. But instead of McCauley, it was Sapp who was the next man up.

Head coach Brad Childress has indicated that a training camp injury to McCauley set him back.

"I tried to take it as positive as I can be," said McCauley. "Everybody goes through their adversity. This is a league of ups and downs. You just have to stay on top of yourself, especially with the position I play, it's hard to get down on yourself so I would never do that."

But, come Sunday, McCauley might see as much action as he has all season because of the Cardinals' passing attack.

"They spread the ball around a lot," he said. "If you look at the stats, all of their guys have got a lot of yards, a lot of catches. … It just seems like all of them are on the same page all the time, regardless if it's the third-string tight end – when those guys get in, you really can't tell the difference."

Sapp doesn't expect any particular receiver to be his responsibility for the bulk of the afternoon.

"They move it around a lot," Sapp said. "They could put Fitzgerald in the slot, Anquan. They put anybody in the slot, whoever they feel like at the moment. You've just got to play how you play. It don't matter who's in the slot. What matters is what you do."

A SMALL ROLE

Vikings backup safety Tyrell Johnson was used extensively against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 30 to help out in coverage with the tight ends. He doesn't see that happening as much against the Cardinals because it is their wide receivers that are most dangerous, not their tight ends.

"I don't think I'll get on the field this week because of their passing attack," Johnson said. "I'm just going to be patient and wait my turn, whenever they do want to put me in there because they think I'm very capable of going out there and covering a receiver just as well as a tight end I would think. But I'm just going to wait my turn and wait for my number to be called and be ready when it is called."

NOTES

  • Offensive lineman Artis Hicks (elbow) did not participate in Friday's practice and is doubtful. So is QB Gus Frerotte (back), who was limited in Friday's practice. WR/KR Darius Reynaud (foot) is out. DEs Jared Allen (knee) and Brian Robison (knee) were both limited and are questionable.

  • For the Cardinals, LB Clark Haggans (foot) and LB Pago Togafau (knee) are doubtful. DT Alan Branch (cheek), FB Terrelle Smith (not injury related), WR Sean Morey (shoulder) and WR Steve Breaston (ribs) are questionable. S Matt Ware (head) and DE Bertrand Berry (shoulder) are probable.

  • Detroit offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus was not fined for his block to the left knee of Vikings DE Jared Allen on Sunday.

  • Vikings linebacker Napoleon Harris and Lions FB Moran Norris were fined $5,000 each for striking each other in the head area during an on-field scuffle shortly after Allen took the hit to his knee. Norris was ejected from the game, but Harris remained on the field.

  • With three sacks, DE Jared Allen and DT Kevin Williams can each tie their career highs for sacks in a single season. Allen's career high is 15.5, and Williams' is 11.5. Allen has 12.5 so far in 2008 while Williams has 8.5. Allen's 12.5 sacks are the most in a Vikings single season since DT John Randle notched 15.5 in 1997.


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