Monday, July 6, 2015

My roster evaluation series focusing on reserve players that earned some significant playing time for the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 continues with the spotlight pointed on defensive back Robert Blanton.

Blanton has the size at 6’1 200 pounds that you look for in versatile defensive back. Mike Zimmer likes length and Blanton certainly has that with 31 1/4 inch arms that he uses extremely well especially when playing the run.

Blanton was one of the top high school cornerbacks in the country and went on to play in 50 of 51 games for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He finished his NCAA career with eight interceptions, 19.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and nearly 200 total tackles.

Blanton has above average agility but lacks blazing straight line speed. Upon drafting the cornerback in the 5th round of the 2012 draft, the Vikings converted him to safety. But, with the injury bug hitting the cornerback position in 2013, the Vikings were forced to use Blanton as a nickel corner for 275 snaps compared to only 128 snaps at safety.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, while playing the safety position, Blanton only gave up 2 receptions, 0 touchdowns and a 28.6 completion percentage in his coverage. At the cornerback spot he gave up 23 reception, 2 touchdowns, a 76.7 completion percentage and a quarterback rate of 126.8. How does that compare to fellow Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford? Sanford has a higher overall PFF grade logging 809 snaps while giving up 19 receptions, 3 touchdowns, with an 82.6 completion percentage and a QB rate of 133.2.

My opinion on Blanton runs hot and cold. In the week 15 game vs the Philadelphia Eagles,  Blanton struggled to turn and stay in tight pass coverage against the quicker Eagles’ wide receivers (he was even beaten over the top for TD by a TE). During the week 17 game vs the Detroit Lions, he looked much better and his solid tackling ability almost makes me think he could make an adequate starting safety teamed up next to Harrison Smith.

Blanton plays with good phyicality and lateral movement and can make plays when lined up in the box. He uses his arms very well to fight through blocks and shed defenders. Blanton is a high effort player displaying aggressiveness and a competitive fire on every play.

In the Lions game he flashed his ability as a effective long armed tackler. In the clip below, Blanton sheds his blocker and snags the ballcarrier with little more than his arms. When the play began, Blanton was lined up outside of the picture frame but his good instinct and lateral movement made him a factor in the play. Even with a pesky slot reciever in his face, Blanton was able get to the hole. You can’t tell by the clips, but this was a bang bang play that looked like it was going to pop for big yards. Reggie gained 6 yards on the play, but was he really robbed of a big play by the “Long Arm of the Law”? armed

The Lion’s tailback tries to redirect and move away from #36 Robert Blanton, but his wingspan proves to be to much as Blanton and Erin Henderson make a big play in the backfield.blanton run

Blanton is one of the Vikings most effective DBs when it comes to defending screen plays and short dump offs. In the clip  below, the dangerous and explosive Reggie Bush catches the ball in space and has some blockers out front. Off to the races right? Not so fast,  Blanton shows his willingness and toughness to fight through a block and make a play. My question; why does it take so long for Sanford to shed his block? This is the kind of play that doesn’t hurt Sanford’s overall grade at PFF, but it doesn’t go unnoticed by me.

blanton screen

Blanton’s best attributes are his size, attitude and toughness.  He plays “like” a scrappy boundery press man corner, the  problem is he doesn’t have good press man coverage skill and can get beat over the top too often.

As a safety he has the size and great tackling ability coaches covet in a defensive back. However, questionably closing speed along with a lack of big hitting potential taper my enthusiasum for Blanton’s development as a quality NFL starting safety. With that said, I do like his physicality, sure tackling, good fundamentals and accurate angles when pursuing plays. The question is, can Zimmer turn Blanton into something special?

Blanton should get his fair share of first team reps at safety during OTAs and camp this season. Certainly his experience at nickel last year will benefit his development as a safety this season. If Blanton wants to see more game action, he will need to prove he can get his hands on some passes in preseason.

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When Mike Zimmer was announced as the newest head coach of the Minnesota Vikings there seemed to be a league-wide reaction of “it is about damned time” from just about everyone.

The well-respected and productive defensive coach had been passed up for heading coaching gigs for so many years that the 2014 offseason was nearly the last straw for him.  When a team, presumably the Tennessee Titans, filled their vacancy by passing on Zimmer he said he thought about just giving up on his quest for a head coaching position.

“I almost didn’t go (on the second interview with Minnesota), yeah. I was so disappointed,” Zimmer recently told the media. “It was like, ‘Why even do this?’ It was to that point. I figured I was getting too old. I thought, ‘Forget this.’ ”

Of course, Zimmer ended up being the top choice for the Wilf family and immediately became a guy Minnesota fans are generally excited to see at the helm.

The hope here is that the Vikings are the biggest beneficiaries of the delay Zimmer experienced in trying to climb the NFL coaching ladder.

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The Minnesota Vikings announced through their official twitter feed that they’ve released cornerback Kip Edwards in order to claim cornerback Julian Posey off of waivers. Posey is the brother of Texans receiver DeVier Posey.

Julian Posey comes from the Ohio University (like current Vikings UDFA receiver Donte Foster) and was an undrafted free agent for the New York Jets, jumping on and off of their practice squad. He was released at the end of the 2012 preseason. After that, he signed with the Miami Dolphins onto their practice squad, but was promoted to the active roster and was active for a total of two games, without taking any snaps.

In September of 2013, he signed on to the practice squad with the Cleveland Browns, and was promoted to the active roster once again in the middle of the season (bouncing back and forth from active to practice squad). He was active for five games that year, all at the end and was a substitute for three of those games (because of an injury to Chris Owens), starting the final one against Pittsburgh (because of Joe Haden’s hip injury).

The National Football Post had this to say on Posey coming out in 2011:

Possesses good overall height, but has a really thin, frail-looking frame. Does a nice job extending his arms down the field in zone coverage and can create a decent jolt on contact. However, in press man doesn’t seem real confident extending his arms into the target, has a tendency to open up his hips prematurely, takes a bit of a jump step off the line and allows himself to get way too high. Isn’t a real natural bender either, seems to double over the waste in off-coverage and although he seems more comfortable sitting into his stance off the line, he pops his pad level way too high initially off the line.

Wastes a lot of motion when asked to redirect and click and close on the football. Fails to stay real low and compact with his footwork, gets caught trying to regain his balance and can be slow to click and close. Possesses good fluidity in the hips when asked to turn and run, but he needs to step off to regain his footing and get back up to speed. Possesses good straight-line speed for the position, but doesn’t play real fast in tight quarters. Isn’t a real physical tackler by any stretch and I can’t see him breaking down on receivers in the NFL and coming up with the stick.

Impression: Lacks ideal balance and footwork, isn’t real physical and looks nothing more than a speed free agent.

At his Pro Day, he posted a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 40 1/2″ vertical leap, along with an impressive 10’10” broad jump. His three-cone was 6.71 seconds and his shuttle was 4.20 seconds.

Posey seems to be a cut driven by a pursuit to follow a model—the Browns under Pettine have shown signs of consistently preferring height and length, both of which are fairly average for Posey.

This should make camp slightly more competitive but likely does not have a long-term impact on the roster. Nevertheless, without a lot of depth at cornerback on the roster this year, it’s a move that makes sense.

16 games of football, and maybe even a post-season appearance, can change the way we look at the makeup of a roster and the value of an individual player.  With that being said, as I glance towards what drama might be in store for next offseason, Rick Spielman doesn’t appear to have many paramount decisions waiting for him on the horizon.

Most of the current players that are set to see their contracts expire after this season were signed (or re-signed) this offseason to one year deals.  The hope is that they will produce quite nicely and be worthy of another contract next offseason, but they really won’t be priorities until that production actually happens.

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One of the most entertaining, and knowledgable website personalities you will find when surfing the web for your Vikings fix is Andy Carlson at PurpleFTW.com. You can also follow him on twitter @PurpleForTheWin.

Andy invited me to be a guest on his podcast last Thursday night… and we had a blast talking football and “Chewing the Fat”. You can listen to the entire podcast on purpleftw.com or on youtube here.

Thanks again Andy! I enjoyed being on the podcast.

VT’s very own Lindsey Young will be making her guest appearance on the PurpleFTW podcast on June 9th. Be sure to catch all the fun!

 

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