New Hair, New Opportunity

Antone Exum has brought quite a bit of attention on himself during Minnesota Vikings training camp this year.

The former sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech grabbed headlines earlier this week for his role in a fight with wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell, potentially as a result, has not been in pads for each of the past two practices leading to plenty of negative comments about Exum.

But the bout with Treadwell isn’t the only reason Exum should be in the news. He has made a fluid transition from zone safety to nickel cornerback this offseason and has produced a somewhat unexpectedly strong training camp performance.

“I just think it’s been about preparation,” he said with a long pause, “and focus.”

Aligning in the slot isn’t a completely foreign concept for Exum, however, as he played the position at a high level while with the Hokies.

“I played the position in college so it’s pretty natural for me,” he said. “I like being in the slot, so I have enjoyed it.”

There is a bit of a trade-off for Exum, who admitted he does miss some aspects of the safety position. His instincts and ball skills have been well-documented during both his collegiate and college careers, but his new role asks him to utilize these skills in a different way. Instead of reading the quarterback from center field, he has instead been asked to read one man standing across from him and use his instincts to follow receivers off the line of scrimmage without the benefit of the boundary.

“Yeah, yeah, [I miss playing safety], but I get a lot of it back in the slot,” he said. “[Instincts] are definitely an advantage of the position and just trying to utilize things that I can do well.”

Exum currently finds himself at the forefront of a competition for the position vacated by Captain Munnerlyn this offseason. Munnerlyn, who was an outstanding slot cornerback for the Vikings before returning to the Carolina Panthers, has been one of the many influences to Exum’s success. The former Virginia Tech standout noted that he has watched film of his former teammate in order to gain a better understanding of one of the more difficult positions within Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme.

“I have [watched Munnerlyn film], but I have also watched him in the past,” Exum said. “I kind of always wanted to play the nickel, so I paid a lot of attention to him and it’s been very helpful.”

In addition to making a positional transition, Exum has also switched up his look for his fourth training camp in Mankato. Last year removing his helmet revealed a colorful mop and some insight into Exum’s personal style. This season, however, Exum has traded in the bright colors for a more natural look — something he plans to stamp his trademark style on once it grows a little more.

“I’m growing my hair out so there are more possibilities,” Exum said with a big smile. “Stay tuned.”

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BJ Reidell

Captain Content and Superior Half of About the Labor: A Minnesota Vikings Podcast. Human Flamethrower on Twitter @RobertReidell.

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  1. Good luck to Exum and his hair color. I hope he has a great year.. we need the depth.
    More importantly… you mean to tell me Kenny Easley made the HOF before Jim Marshall? Easley was a great player, he played 7 years.. seven. Popped too many ibuprofen and couldn’t get back on the field. His team even tried to trade him… he called out teammates over the strike.. seriously? He’s Hall of fame worthy and Jim Marshall is not?
    19 years without missing one game. The leader of one of the best defensive teams of all time. Jim Marshall did what it took to play. And play at the highest level. None of the guys that got in this year.. maybe Tomlinson. Marshall tops them all.

    1. “Popped too many ibuprofen and couldn’t get back on the field.”

      Leading to one of the many lawsuits by former players over the care provided by team doctors and trainers, including a lack of supervision over the dispensing of over-the-counter painkillers.

      “His team even tried to trade him”

      For a QB who had just been drafted sixth overall and for whom the Seahawks paid a first-rounder and two fifth-rounders after the Easley trade was voided because of the discovery of his advanced kidney disease, for which he would receive a new kidney two years later.

      “he called out teammates over the strike”

      And good for him. He was the team’s union representative, after all. The Vikings reacquired Sam McCullum when the Seahawks cut their then union rep over the 1982 players’ strike. Seattle’s management was rabidly anti-union.

      “He’s Hall of fame worthy and Jim Marshall is not?”

      Easley was a five-time Pro Bowler, four-time First-Team All-Pro and is a starting safety on the NFL’s 1980’s All-Decade Team. Marshall was a two-time Pro Bowler and four-time Second-Team all-Pro and is not on any All-Decade Team. No disrespect to Marshall, but Easley simply shined brighter over a shorter period of time. Dwight Stephenson, Miami’s HoF center who’s career was cut short by injury, is a close analog to Easley.