Vikings look to clear stack of strong safeties
MANKATO, Minn. — The Vikings have a traffic jam at strong safety.
“I think we have a lot of great guys coming in and playing for this position, so it’s exciting for me,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “I love the competition, and it’s only making me a better player.”
Coleman started last week’s preseason opener against Oakland and had an interception, but he and others still have plenty to prove to first-year coach Mike Zimmer.
Robert Blanton is No. 1 on the depth chart but has been out for nearly three weeks because of a hamstring strain — and won’t play against the Cardinals. Jamarca Sanford started 13 games at strong safety last season but missed spring drills with a groin strain, and was held out against the Raiders because of a bad back. He is expected to play Saturday.
Zimmer is planning to take a “real hard look” at Sanford, as well as Coleman, Chris Crocker, Andrew Sendejo and rookie Antone Exum.
“We’re going to divide it up,” Zimmer said. “I want to play these guys quite a bit this week. I want to see how it goes from there and then try to figure out the rest of the pecking order as we get going. Hopefully, this will be a big week for those safeties.”
The Vikings went into training camp at Minnesota State-Mankato with two starting spots in the secondary locked up: Harrison Smith at free safety and Xavier Rhodes at right cornerback. Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson are listed as tied at the top of the depth chart at left cornerback, but it appears Munnerlyn has taken charge.
Both players have been sidelined at times by hamstring strains, but Munnerlyn is ready to play, while Robinson is expected to miss Saturday’s game after aggravating the injury Wednesday in practice.
“It’s hard to make the club in the tub,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know if (Munnerlyn is) entrenched (as the starter), but if you’re not going out there and proving it every single day, and proving it in the games, then it’s hard to know.”
Barring injury, only one other starting job on defense seems unsettled. That’s at middle linebacker, where Jasper Brinkley is No. 1 on the depth chart but is continuing to face competition from Audie Cole.
“I’m not there yet, so that is why I don’t want to say it,” Zimmer said of whether his starting linebackers are set.
Brinkley got the starting nod against the Raiders. Now, he’ll continue to try to hold off Cole against Arizona, the team he played for last season after playing for the Vikings 2009-12.
“I’m approaching every day like a work day,” Brinkley said. “The best man is going to get the job.”
On offense, the only starting position not settled is at quarterback, although Matt Cassel looks to have a significant edge over rookie Teddy Bridgewater. If Cassel wins the job, the Vikings would return all 11 offensive starters from last season.