The Vikings made one of the big splashes in the 2013 draft when defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, projected to go as early as No. 3 in the first round, fell into their laps at No. 23. Expectations are high for Floyd and the early indications are that the Vikings got what they expected when other team needs allowed Floyd to slip through the cracks to the Vikings.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams gave his first grade on Floyd Tuesday in Mankato, saying that he has lived up to his billing and looks to be as good as advertised – both in his physical and mental approach to the game.
“He’s a big-bodied guy and he’s an explosive guy,” Williams said. “The thing that we like about Sharrif is that he picks things up quickly. When the coaches have to correct him, he takes that correction, he does the right thing the next time and whatever it was that was wrong, that’s out the window. He’s doing that correction correctly from then on. That’s a good thing when a guy has a problem and he takes that problem and eliminates it.”
With the Vikings only have one padded practice under their belts heading into Tuesday afternoon’s session, Williams wasn’t going to anoint a specific role yet for Floyd. He wants to make sure that the technique he has displayed at minicamps and the early stages of training camp will transfer once the hitting begins.
“Right now, it’s going to be tough to tell,” Williams said. “We just need to wait to see what he does in live action. Sometimes guys will revert back to what they did in college. We’ll wait to see if he has any of those bad habits. As of right now, he’s on track to be a consistent, powerful football player that we can use.”
From the moment the announcement was made that the Vikings were selecting Floyd, the impression from some has been that he will run Kevin Williams out of the starting lineup. There also has been some talk that the two might line up side by side, but Williams pointed out that the skill sets for a three-technique defensive tackle is different from a classic run-stopping nose tackle and that depth is needed at both positions because a rotation calls for players to be specialized in specific techniques.
The role the Floyd plays in the Vikings defense will be up to how quickly he progresses. Williams is happy to have a young stud who was battle-tested in college, but Floyd has been made aware that, in the Vikings system, defensive linemen rotate in and out and there is a method to the madness.
“The guys know that they’re going to rotate,” Williams said. “They know that they’re going to, at some point, have to come out of the ball game. That’s going to be the best thing for the team, not necessarily the best thing for their number of reps. We want to make sure we keep them fresh for three reasons. One is that, at the end of the ball game when we need to shut it out, the guys are fresh, they can get themselves going. Number two would be at the end of the year when we need to make that playoff push that guys are healthy and they don’t have too many reps on their bodies so that they’re still fresh. The third is that, if someone would happen to get injured, the other guy has enough reps under his belt that he can come in there and play winning football. Having that rotation helps the entire team out and they’re good with it – even though they may tell you, ‘Hey, I want to play every down’ they know what’s best for us as a whole.”
THE RHODES TO SUCCESS
While Williams has been impressed with Floyd’s ability early on in training camp, he heaped just about as much praise on rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Asked to assess what he has seen thus far from the first-round rookie, Williams sounded more like his agent than his coach.
“He’s big, he’s long and he has a great attitude,” Williams said. “We talk about being a smart football player. We always talk about being physical. When we put the pads on yesterday, every indication was that he is going to be physical. We talk about hustle. All those things we talk about in terms of team characteristics, he has displayed those. He’s a prideful guy. Everything isn’t perfect right now, but he works at it. He comes in early. He stays late. Every indicator is that he’s going to be good football player.”
The jump from college to the NFL is difficult on players, but when you’re often out on an island at cornerback, it is a more difficult transition. Mistakes get magnified and can lead to back-breaking big plays. While there is still a lot of work to be done, Rhodes enters the preseason portion of his rookie season with a leg up on a lot of rookies because of his willingness to do the extra things to improve his game and his refusal to accept failure as an option.
“We just need to get him more reps,” Williams said. “It’s always tough on a rookie, especially at corner, to come in and play well. But every indicator says he will, just because of his work ethic and his talent.”
Like Harrison Smith last year, Rhodes hasn’t been proclaimed as a Week 1 starter – even though it seemed obvious from the first days of camp that Smith was better than the other safeties he was competing with. Williams isn’t going to rush to judgment on who will get the lion’s share of the reps on game day. Rhodes is definitely in the mix and will be given every opportunity to win playing time, but Williams is going to take his time and evaluate all the Vikings cornerbacks because, as the saying goes, practice and game tape doesn’t lie.
“We have great competition here because we have a lot of good corners,” Williams said. “I’m not expecting anyone to take a spot or a guy to not play well. I expect all our corners to play well. What I do is let them go out there, let them compete, turn on the film and the film says what it is. I’m not going to reserve any judgments or make any predictions right now. I’m just going to wait, coach them up and look at the film. The film will tell.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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.