Minnesota Vikings safety Jayron Kearse has been fighting an uphill battle since the moment he was drafted during the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft.
Kearse, a former standout safety at Clemson University, entered camp last season with greater expectations than most late-round draft selections due to his incredible size-athleticism combination. He delivered to some extent, making the 53-man roster out of training camp last season and contributing a total of 77 snaps on defense — second to only first-round pick Laquon Treadwell among Vikings rookies.
The results were not always there for Kearse, however, as he often appeared to struggle with his positioning and overall understanding of Mike Zimmer’s complex defensive scheme. Entering his second training camp in Minnesota following a full offseason with the Vikings, Kearse is feeling considerably more comfortable both with the training camp process and his understanding of his role on defense.
“I’ve made some plays and limited the mistakes,” he said. “Overall, I feel like this camp has certainly gone better for me.”
Kearse has been fairly impressive during the latter stages of Vikings training camp. Most notably, he picked off quarterback Taylor Heinicke during an 11-on-11 two-minute drill simulation, effectively ending the offensive drive and practice on a high note.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “I understand the defense a lot more, you know, much better than I did last year. It’s really been a great thing for me, being able to verbalize with the coaches and my teammates.
“It definitely helps to get in a full offseason with the playbook and the offseason program.”
The Vikings’ defensive back depth chart is pretty well set for the most part, but there remain a few questions regarding who will play slot cornerback and which bubble players will make the roster as primary backups. Kearse falls into the latter group, as he continues to compete with third-year safety Anthony Harris, rookie Jack Tocho and, to some extent, Antone Exum for a job behind both Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo.
Kearse will have the opportunity to showcase what he has been working on during tonight’s night scrimmage. The chance to close out the final Vikings training camp in Mankato with a bang is at the forefront of the second-year safety’s mind, but he is keeping a rather simple mindset with regard to his approach to the first of many opportunities this August to solidify a role in Minnesota’s talented secondary.
“It’s really just about going out there and playing football,” Kearse said. “I have to go out there and capitalize on the opportunities that the coaches give me. That’s really all I can do is go out there and compete and play football.”
Minnesota’s inter-squad scrimmage kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. central at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato.