Speedy Ex-Viking Heads to Pittsburgh

Aug 19, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; A Pittsburgh Steelers helmet sits on the sidelines against the Buffalo Bills at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings had a disastrous start to their 2023 campaign, losing the season opener at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Week 2 contest in Philadelphia, facing the reigning NFC champions. Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers lost their season opener in blowout fashion against the San Francisco 49ers.

Speedy Ex-Viking Heads to Pittsburgh

A perennial .500 or better operation, the Steelers didn’t look like a contender in the AFC North at all, despite the preseason hype surrounding sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett, and the defense couldn’t stop Brock Purdy, who is running Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system perfectly.

Speedy Ex-Viking Heads to Pittsburgh
Aug 19, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tennessee Titans wide receiver Racey McMath (13) runs after the catch as Minnesota Vikings cornerback Kalon Barnes (27) looks to make the tackle during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

On Friday, the Steelers announced the signing of former Vikings cornerback Kalon Barnes to the practice squad.

Barnes was a seventh-round pick in last year’s draft of the Carolina Panthers, but he was waived during the final cutdown day – the day every team cuts players to get down to 53 players. The Miami Dolphins added Barnes to their practice squad from where the Vikings signed him to their roster in December.

He appeared in two games with the Vikings and logged nine snaps on special teams. Barnes possesses the speed to be a valuable asset on special teams. The former Baylor defender ran a 4.23 40-yard dash, the second-fastest official time at the combine ever, only trailing recently retired wideout John Ross.

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Racey McMath (13) tries to make a catch over Minnesota Vikings cornerback Kalon Barnes (27) during practice in Eagan, Minn., Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023.

Viewed as an elite athlete with significant weaknesses in terms of technique coming out of college, Barnes is still a project that has to learn how to be an effective cornerback. That’s why the Vikings decided to move on from their speedster after the preseason, and the franchise decided it was better not to sign him to the practice squad despite showing some clear improvement.

Barnes logged 79 snaps on defense in the preseason, primarily as a depth player with the third-team protection, despite Minnesota’s cornerback problems. According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted ten times and allowed nine catches for 76 yards and one touchdown but was given a solid grade of 69.4.

The defender joins a bunch of former Vikings in Pittsburgh. Head coach Tomlin was Minnesota’s defensive coordinator before he accepted the chance to take over as the head coach. He brought in a duo of Minnesota’s shaky 2022 cornerback room – veteran Patrick Peterson and nickel corner Chandon Sullivan.

Sep 10, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) runs with the ball down the sideline with Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson (20) defending during the second half at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Peterson plays next to Levi Wallace as the team’s top outside cornerback, while Sullivan is the primary slot defender. The Steelers also employ defensive tackle Armon Watts, who was shockingly waived on last year’s cutdown day, although he was expected to be a starter. Watts was inactive in Week 1 but is expected to contribute because starter Cam Heyward was placed on IR.

Also on the team is center Mason Cole, who pushed Garrett Bradbury for his starting role in 2021 and played some center and guard for the Vikings before he signed in Pittsburgh as a free agent. He has been the starter since.

Barnes is in a good spot to learn his position from Tomlin. He needs a few injuries on the roster to become relevant for his team.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt