An Unexpected Player Is Getting First-Team Reps

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Players compete in position battles in the months leading up to the season opener. It’s an annual common practice in the NFL. The same thing happens in the Vikings organization. New players, especially rookies, have to actively beat out the incumbent starters, and multiple players want to take over for departed players.

An Unexpected Player Is Getting First-Team Reps

An Unexpected Player Is Getting First-Team Reps
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Four cornerbacks departed from the franchise after a bad season for the group. The defenders could not cover receivers, which showed when offenses marched up and down the field weekly. Mac Jones and Mike White had field days against the purple team and the defense coordinated by Ed Donatell.

Another good example is New York Giants’ receiver Isaiah Hodgins. He had 392 receiving yards in the regular season. The most receiving yards he had in a single game besides the two contests against the Vikings was 44. Against the Vikings, however, Hodgins recorded 89 and 105 yards. Only the Tennessee Titans allowed more passing yards in the 2022 campaign than the Vikes.

Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan joined the Steelers, Duke Shelley the Raiders, and Cameron Dantzler was released from the Commanders a few days ago after the Vikings waived him in March. The Vikings should be excited about the change considering the disastrous numbers.

The departure of four players who started games last season left a void at cornerback. One of those spots will be filled by Byron Murphy, the team’s top free-agent addition after he spent four years with the Cardinals. The second starting CB job is vacant, and there are some contenders.

Vikings Recent Signing
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Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth, both 2022 rookies, were expected to compete with 2023 rookie Mekhi Blackmon for the CB duties, but another free agent acquisition is also in the mix. When the Vikings signed Joejuan Williams a couple of weeks before the draft, he was viewed as a replacement for Kris Boys as a depth piece and special teamer who might not make the 53-man roster.

The theme in OTAs so far has been Murphy obtaining one spot with the first-team defense and Evans and Williams rotating at the other spot, with Booth getting some reps in nickel formations when three cornerbacks are on the field at the same time. The top candidate for the nickel CB job is Jay Ward, but rookies are always starting behind the veterans on the depth chart.

Williams was a 2019 second-round pick of the New England Patriots, but he started only one game in his four-year tenure with the Patriots. The 6’3″ cornerback appeared in 36 games in Bill Belichick’s operation and was on the field for 505 snaps on defense and 337 with the special teams. A shoulder injury suffered in August forced him to miss the 2022 season, his fourth, on injured reserve. Neither the Patriots nor anyone else signed the free agent for roughly four weeks.

Vikings Have 2023 Defensive
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It is noteworthy that defensive coordinator Brian Flores coached for about a decade in New England and left right before the arrival of Williams. However, he has experience in a scheme similar to Flores’, so he may have an advantage over the young guys who are all learning a new defense.

It will be a fascinating storyline if Williams can finally live up to the second-round draft pedigree. The position battles will be ongoing through training camp in August and the preseason.

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