Positional Analysis: Cornerback

The Vikings' cornerbacks haven't received much praise the last few years, but while the team has been slowly adding young depth at position, the experienced pass rusher it obtained in Jared Allen could be the biggest boon for the defensive backfield.

The Vikings' cornerbacks have spent much of the past couple of seasons on an island. Without the benefit of a significant or consistent pass rush, the cornerbacks have been asked to hold their positions much longer and have been criticized as a result. But that isn't to say that the Vikings don't have talent at the position. With a significant upgrade being made to the pass rush with the signing of Jared Allen, the result is expected to be a ripple effect throughout the back end of the defense – especially at cornerback.

Antoine Winfield is the veteran presence in the cornerback corps. Despite being one of the smaller defenders in the NFL, Winfield is a big hitter who provides not only good coverage ability, but is adept at helping out in run support. While some top corners have the reputation of being divas that don't like to get physical, Winfield is willing to give up his body to make a play. That trait led to a series of injuries over the last couple of seasons, but, as minicamp approaches, Winfield is 100 percent and looking to re-assert himself as a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback.

The player to watch in this group is third-year pro Cedric Griffin. Brought in initially to be a nickel back behind Winfield and Fred Smoot, Griffin quickly stepped into the starting lineup due to injuries and off-field problems for Smoot in 2006. When Smoot was let go following the 2006 season, Griffin was pushed into the starting lineup to stay last year. At first, teams picked on him – throwing an inordinate number of passes his way. He embraced the challenge and, as the season progressed, he made significant strides. This season, he comes in knowing his starting job is safe and with more confidence than he displayed a year ago. The result should be evident.

Behind the starters, the Vikings have young depth. Marcus McCauley was a late first-round talent in the 2007 draft that dropped all the way into the third round because of a dismal season for his Fresno State team as a senior in which he was asked to do too much and he felt like a scapegoat for a defense that struggled mightily. His plummeting draft stock, however, belied his talent. McCauley was pressed into service when Winfield was injured and he gained some valuable experience along the way. He is joined by Charles Gordon and free-agent signee Benny Sapp in proving depth at the position. Both Gordon and Sapp are expected to make special-teams contributions as well as serving as nickel and dime backs in multi-receiver sets.

The Vikings' corners have been maligned the last couple of seasons because teams have been able to pass at will against them. But, as the coaching staff will attest, much of the problem has not been the fault of the corners, but instead the inability for the Vikings to get a pass rush that can rattle the quarterback. That time afforded quarterbacks much too much time to get comfortable in the pocket and complete passes downfield. With the expected increase in the Vikings' pass rush this season, those who will benefit the most may well be the cornerbacks and the result could be a much improved season in 2008 compared to what the group experienced in 2006 or 2007.

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