Erin Henderson (John Emms/Viking Update)
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams likes his depth at cornerback, even with Josh Robinson slowly working his way back from a hamstring injury. Williams talked about a few key players on his defense.
With all the changes on the Vikings roster, one of the most significant isn’t a position player.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams comes to the Vikings after spending the last 10 years as the defensive backs coach with the Indianapolis Colts. He is looking at the defensive talent on the Vikings – both veterans and new players – with a fresh set of eyes and will be basing his playing-time decisions on what he sees, not a preconceived notion formed when coaches that have been around players for a long time.
“Being new here, I’m just coming in and seeing how guys work – making evaluations fresh and new,” Williams said. “It’s a clean slate.”
Williams fielded questions following Saturday morning’s walk-through practice – covering a variety of topics about what he has seen from his players throughout the offseason and the first week of training camp. These were some of the players he discussed and what he hopes to see out of them:
Williams addressed the possibility of keeping six cornerbacks on the roster. Typically, a team keeps five cornerbacks, but the depth of talent at the position is going to make it a tough decision for the Vikings brass.
“They’re really making it hard (to decide who stays and who gets cut) and that’s a good thing,” Williams said. “Any time you have competition, that means guys are working, guys are stepping up and making plays. That’s a good problem to have – to have guys make you make decisions about who stays and who goes. Ultimately, I think there will be one or two guys that go and will go on to play for some other teams.”
One player who has impressed Williams early on has been Erin Henderson. Initially signed as an undrafted free agent primarily because his brother E.J. had played so well for the team, the younger Henderson has forged his own identity with the team and Williams likes what he’s seen.
“He’s smart, he’s intelligent, he communicates well, he knows the defense, he flies around, he had leadership qualities – the list kind of goes on and on,” Williams said. “You can never have too many guys that can fill in different spots. That’s a good thing to have. Erin has done that pretty well. In the base defense, he’s been at the (weakside) linebacker. In nickel, he can go inside and can play every one of those positions. That’s good for us if somebody misses a day or goes down. Erin can fill in all those spots and the big thing is, when he does go in those spots, he plays winning football.”
Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson has been sidelined with a hamstring injury, which couldn’t have come a worse time, since the Vikings had intentions of working him out both at cornerback and as a potential return man as well. Williams said the team is erring on the side of caution until his ailing hamstring is 100 percent before they put him through his paces.
“He did a little bit yesterday,” Williams said. “We’re bringing him along slowly – get some individual work, get some group work and limited team (assignments). Each day we’d like to see him do a little bit more and see how fast he can get up to full speed. We want to be smart about it. Hamstrings are a delicate thing and when you’re a skill (position) guy, you have to use your legs and run at high speed, you don’t want to mess around with that. We’re a little bit cautious with that.”
Rookie safety Harrison Smith was anticipated to be the starter when he was drafted late in the first round. But, through the first week of training camp, he remains a second-team player behind incumbents Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond. While Williams doesn’t discount the potential for Smith to become a starter, he said that will be something he has to earn and, through one week of camp, it’s too soon to simply hand him a starting job over players with NFL experience.
“We want to evaluate a guy on a broad body of work and not five days of practice,” Williams said. “Not just Harrison, we’re waiting to see what guys do in a live situation. Then we’ll look at the film, grade the film, evaluate guys and move them around based on long-term performance – not just one or two days – and make decisions there.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.