The Vikings enter their regular-season opener relatively healthy, but questions remain in the defensive backfield.
Cornerback Asher Allen is the lone entrant on the injury report that was limited in practice this week, but it comes at a position that will be tested heavily Sunday. The San Diego Chargers had the top-ranked offense from 2010 and have the vast majority of their weapons returning.
They were ranked second in points (441), third in first downs (357), and second in net passing yards per game (282.4), and they do it with mainly a mix of tight end Antoine Gates and a couple of tall receivers— Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd are both listed at 6-foot-5.
“Big targets for them and I’m looking forward to going out and playing against those guys,” said Chris Cook, easily the Vikings’ tallest cornerback at 6-foot-2.
“They have a pretty strong passing game. They have a good running game, too. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
With quarterback Philip Rivers making the decisions, the Chargers passing game has plenty of talented options, and a propensity to spread the ball around. Last year, running back Darren Sproles (now in New Orleans) was their leading receiver with 59 catches and Gates had 50. Floyd had 37 and Jackson, who held out for contractual reasons and played in only five games, had 14 receptions. Prior to 2010, Jackson put together two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
With Cook and Griffin working their way back from knee surgeries last year, the stable of cornerbacks has plenty of question marks, but it can’t afford to ease into the regular season. Not with San Diego’s passing attack.
“They’re really explosive. I want to say all their receivers are 6-4 or better. They have a really good quarterback. Really good tight end. It’s going to be challenge for us, but I’m sure we’ll be up to it,” said Antoine Winfield, who will have his hands full at 5-foot-9.
Cook might not get on the field until the Chargers put three receivers out there, but he might be the best matchup option the Vikings have against those tall receivers. During the preseason, he was put almost exclusively on the 6-foot-4 Sidney Rice when the Vikings played the Seattle Seahawks. Could that happen again with Cook covering Floyd or Jackson?
“Possibly, just because I’m a little bigger corner and a lot of the bigger receivers in the league, they like to throw jump balls to them and just put the ball up in the air to them whether they’re covered or not,” Cook said. “I’m looking forward to that happening a lot this year. I’m looking forward to this game on Sunday so we can go out here and beat these guys.”
The 5-foot-9 Allen started 11 games last year because of injuries, but this week he’s the only Vikings player listed as questionable with foot injury. Frazier the decision on whether or not to activate Allen will not be based on his height disadvantage going against San Deigo.
“There are some 5-9 guys that have great leaping ability and tremendous quickness that can offset some of that sometimes. It depends on the defensive back. In our case, that’s not a factor,” Frazier said. “That won’t be a determining factor when we decide whether or not Asher is going to be up.”
CB Chris Cook (hamstring), QB Donovan McNabb (right wrist) and TE Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) were all full participants through the week of practice and are listed as probable on the Friday injury report.
Right tackle Phil Loadholt returned to practice Friday after a family emergency kept him away on Thursday. Frazier said Loadholt should be ready to play on Sunday. “He should be fine. He should be fine. His mind should be clear,” Frazier said.
Letroy Guion will start at defensive tackle for the suspended Kevin Williams.
Frazier said rookie defensive lineman Christian Ballard will concentrate on playing the three-technique (Williams and Guion’s position) to start the season. Ballard can also play defensive end.
Everson Griffien, who played the majority of his snaps during the preseason finale at linebacker, will concentrate on defensive end to start the season.
“Right now, I really want him to concentrate on being an end,” Frazier said. “We have some packages where we’re going to move him around, he’ll be similar to a linebacker. But he has a chance to be a very good defensive end. Without an offseason, it’s a stretch for some of the things you have to do at linebacker, but if we get a bunch of injuries, who knows? We could revisit.”
Frazier still wasn’t giving away who his starting kick returner would be. “We’re getting close to figuring that out. We’re going to talk one more time about it,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence in Lorenzo Booker. Percy’s done a great job, but Lorenzo last season, he did a terrific job with us as well. We’ll talk about that some more.”
Frazier has an 11-man veteran committee he meets with on at least a weekly basis to convey the messages for the week and to let him know of any issues in the locker room.
“I just really asked those guys that are my corps leadership group to convey the message that I’ve been talking to the team about all throughout the week in the locker room,” Frazier said. “I need them to carry that message through. If that’s the case, if they buy in, then other players will follow,” he said.
All NFL players, coaches and sideline personnel will wear a special NFL 9/11 ribbon as a patch or pin on their uniforms and sideline apparel to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
“It will be very much a high priority. With us opening in San Diego with such a big military base, it’s definitely part of the deal,” said Steve LaCroix, Vikings vice president of marketing and chief marketing officer.
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.