Another Young Vikings Defender Turned Heads This Month

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The Minnesota Vikings have no shortage of safeties on the current roster.

Another Young Vikings Defender Turned Heads This Month

The franchise has seven, in fact, with the apparent position change of special teamer NaJee Thompson from cornerback to safety. And while that is news in itself, another youngster has stood off the page this month — second-year defender Jay Ward.

Rating the Vikings
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Ward played substantially on special teams as a rookie — 306 plays — with 35 defensive snaps. That was enough to make a name for himself among coaches, and his sizzle has transferred to 2024 organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp.

The Athletic‘s Alec Lewis sized up every player on Minnesota’s roster this week with training camp one month away, and on Ward, the synopsis was all positive. Lewis wrote, “Jay Ward: The Vikings would not cringe if he had to play. He looked like one of the most explosive defenders on the roster this spring.”

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Ward introduced himself to Vikings fans last summer in a game versus the Arizona Cardinals. Of course, it was only preseason, but this hit proved to some that the rookie could have the gumption to eventually succeed in the pros.

The fascinating aspect is whether Ward can climb the depth chart to experience meaningful playing time on defense in 2024. Like teammate Lewis Cine, Ward has “too many” safeties in front of him on the roster, making playing time hard to find. As of June 20th, these are the Vikings’ safeties:

  • Harrison Smith
  • Camryn Bynum
  • Josh Metellus
  • Jay Ward
  • Lewis Cine
  • Theo Jackson
  • NaJee Thompson
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That’s arguably the deepest section on Minnesota’s summer depth chart, so Ward will have to stand out even further this summer at training camp and in the preseason to find playing time in 2024 — or bide his time for 2025 when the safety room could look different.

Last summer, when the safety section of the roster was equally as deep, head coach Kevin O’Connell said, “We’ve got one of the NFL’s better safety rooms. Shoot, we’ve got six of them, and we’re going to have some really, really hard conversations that may or may not involve keeping all six. That’s how strong we think that room is.”

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Racey McMath (13) is tackled by Minnesota safety Jay Ward (20) and cornerback Kalon Barnes (27) at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. © Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Minnesota then kept all six safeties, an unusual occurrence for an NFL club. Seven is probably too many. Ward is certainly safe and not on the summer roster bubble, but Cine, for example, could be treading water.

Ward will turn 24 next month.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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