Leslie Frazier still thinks back to one game last year in trying to determine how good his secondary can be this year.
On Sept. 26 last year, Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook all started as the Vikings opened in a nickel defense against the Detroit Lions. Minnesota ended up beating the Lions 24-10 and intercepted two passes from Shaun Hill, who was already filling in for an injured Matthew Stafford.
Chris Cook injured his knee in that game, and by the time he returned to action Cedric Griffin was on injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. As Frazier prepares for his first game as the Vikings’ full-time head coach, he sees a lot of promise in a sometimes-maligned secondary that is getting all of its starting cornerbacks – Winfield, Griffin and Cook in the nickel defense – back for the first time in almost a year.
“It changes so many things from a defensive standpoint. Our league has evolved to a pass-first league in so many cities and so many teams, so you better have some guys on the outside that can stand up,” said Frazier, who was a starting cornerback himself for the 1985 Chicago Bears. “If you don’t, no matter how good you are up front, it’s just a matter of time before you’re going to get exposed. Those three guys have the ability to be what we’re looking for. They showed it – we only had them on the field one time together – I think it was the Detroit game a year ago – but we saw a glimpse and I think we’ll get that. If we do … it allows you to do so many more things from a defensive standpoint.”
Cook, who struggled with injuries to both knees last year before finally going on injured reserve for the final three games of the season, is looking forward to getting back on the field and the opportunity to redeem himself for his uneven performances of 2010 that were affected by him being less than full strength.
“I can’t wait for this game on Sunday so we can go out here and beat these guys and I can go out and show what I have,” Cook said.
It won’t be that easy, however. Philip River, the accomplished Chargers quarterback, is no Shaun Hill.
Rivers finished 2010 as the league’s top passer with 4710 yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He was one of only four starting quarterbacks to finish with a passer rating above 100 (101.8).
“[The Chargers] are a challenge for any defense, let alone we’re coming off the situation we’re coming off of from a health standpoint. Terrific receivers, terrific quarterback, No. 1 offense in the league a year. A good challenge for us. We’ll find out where we are,” Frazier said with a smile.
“Their offense doesn’t make you have to have a lot of defensive backs [active] the way they use their personnel, but you just want to have the right guys on the field when it comes to your secondary because you’re going to get spread out … I think we’ve got the right guys to make some plays for us. It’s not having the number of guys, it’s having the right guys.”
Griffin is coming off his second ACL surgery in as many seasons. He started practicing at the outset of training camp, but he played in only two of the four preseason games.
“All indications are that he’s going to do fine, but he’s had limited exposure in the preseason for obvious reasons when you’re coming off a second ACL surgery in a little over a year,” Frazier said. “We’re all anxious to see how he performs. We’ll probably have to monitor how he performs and how much he’s on the field. But we’re excited and we need to see how he does this week in practice as well.”
While Frazier expresses confidence in the health of his cornerbacks, he wants to see their confidence increase.
That might be more difficult against Rivers and his set of receivers. Besides running back Darren Sproles, tight end Antonio Gates was the Chargers’ leading receiver, but Rivers also has a pair of 6-foot-5 receivers in Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd.
Even so, Rivers isn’t going to stir it up with too much pregame trash talk.
“What they’ve shown on tape, they seem to be playing well,” he said of the Vikings’ cornerbacks. “Griffin was obviously there and some of those other guys were back [in 2007] and played us tough. … Winfield really stands out, just such a veteran player, not only outside but when he’s playing in the slot. He’s super crafty and really knows the game. It’s going to be all it’s cranked up to be Week 1.”
McNABB LISTED WITH WRIST INJURY
Quarterback Donovan McNabb was listed on Wednesday’s injury report with a right wrist injury, the first time the Vikings were required to issue an injury report this season. McNabb started the first three preseason games but, like all but two starters, didn’t play in the preseason finale last Thursday against the Houston Texans.
McNabb was one of three Vikings denoted on the injury report that participated fully, a list that included CB Chris Cook and TE Visanthe Shiancoe. Shiancoe said after Wednesday’s practice that he was able to finally open it up after sitting out the entire preseason because of the hamstring he pulled in the first week of training camp.
Frazier said the team is approaching the game plan as if Shiancoe is 100 percent recovered from his hamstring injury. Shiancoe didn’t play at all during the preseason, but he returned to practice on Monday and said he was full strength.
“I’m feeling really, really quick out there,” Shiancoe said.
He tried to come back to practice two weeks ago before the third preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys, but was back resting his hamstring the following day.
“I wasn’t ready yet,” he said. “It wasn’t done. It was still baking. I took it out of the oven too soon. It’s out of the oven, nice and fresh. Fresh hammie.”
CB Asher Allen (foot) was the only player who was limited in Wednesday’s practice.
HOME OPENER TICKETS REMAIN
The Vikings have 3,000 tickets remaining for their home opener against Tampa Bay on Sept. 18.
Steve LaCroix, Vikings vice president of sales and marketing and chief marketing officer, said they “feel good about where we stand and remain confident that we will sell out – and have this game locally televised as planned.”
The Vikings also have 7,000 tickets remaining for their game against the Detroit Lions the following Sunday, Sept. 25.
The Vikings’ home game against the Green Bay Packers (Oct. 23) still has tickets remaining through a “flex pack” where fans are required to also purchase a ticket to their choice of home games against Tampa Bay (Sept. 18), Detroit (Sept. 25), Arizona (Oct. 9) or Oakland (Nov. 20) as part of a two-game package. Single-game tickets start at $39.
The Vikings signed cornerback Domonique Johnson and linebacker Tyrone McKenzie to their practice squad. Johnson is not the Dominique Johnson (a wide receiver) who was with the Vikings during training camp.
To make room on the practice squad, the team released DL Cedric McKinley and FB Matt Asiata.
S Mistral Raymond switched jersey numbers from 30 to 41.
Rivers on the Vikings playing without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who is serving a two-game suspension: “It’s a positive for us, but at the same time I never like to short-change whoever is going to be filling his spot.” In this case, “whoever” is DT Letroy Guion, who is expected to make his first NFL start.
Marcus Sherels will be the No. 1 punt returner, but Frazier said the team is still discussing if Percy Harvin will handle kickoffs.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.