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.”