Two of the Vikings’ top three safeties haven’t practiced yet this week and Pro Bowler Darren Sharper is the man getting used to another rotation of new players next to him.
With Madieu Williams out indefinitely – maybe a week to a month or more – with a neck injury suffered sometime during the first two weeks of training camp and Tyrell Johnson sidelined for at least the last two days of practice and maybe longer, Sharper is left to familiarize himself with two safeties who have the same amount of game experience in the Vikings defense as Williams and Johnson, which is to say no regular-season experience to speak of.
NFL veteran Michael Boulware and second-year player Eric Frampton split time at safety on Tuesday next to Sharper, but Frampton at least has the benefit of two months in the Vikings’ system at the end of last season. After spending the 2007 offseason with the Oakland Raiders, where he was a fifth-round draft choice out of Washington State, the Detroit Lions signed him off waivers when the Raiders released at about this time last year, when teams had to start paring their training camp roster to 53 players before the start of the regular season.
Frampton spent less than two months in the Lions’ defensive system, which also has the Tampa-2 defense as their base, but he said that made the transition from the Lions to the Vikings easier.
“It helped a lot. …. They’re sticklers for everything, so getting there from Oakland and having the playbook pretty much crammed down my throat pretty much helped out for here because there are a lot of similarities,” he said. “Oakland is a straight man team, simple rules. They play everything heads-up, not a lot of zone concepts. So going from Oakland to Detroit and the zone schemes, a little Tampa-2 mixed in there, it was a jump.”
Being able to learn some of the ins and outs of the Tampa-2 defense with Detroit has apparently paid dividends in Frampton’s confidence level. By now, he’s been in the system for almost a year and it shows in the way he communicates on field, according to head coach Brad Childress.
“He’s as vocal of a guy as you have back there. You know, when you go through the calls, adjustments, those guys have to communicate because they are setting the back end based on where the tight end is, strength, motion,” Childress said. “So he’s a guy that sings it out. You can always hear him. I’m always talking to (the defensive backs coaches) and they’re always talking to safeties about being vocal communicators. It’s not just a look, a nod and a wink – everybody has to hear it. Sing it out. There is no downside to that. Just as linebackers do that, he does it and he’s as good as we have in terms of being a vocal leader back there.”
Frampton said that’s a product of his growing familiarity with the different responsibilities in the Vikings defense.
“If you’re talking, you know what you’re doing and you just call it out. It makes (the coaches) more comfortable, but it makes me a little more comfortable, calling out knowing what I’m doing and making sure everyone’s on the same page,” he said.
But the learning curve hasn’t stopped just because his time in the system has increased. Frampton said he is always learning and studying the playbook to engender more confidence in him from the coaches.
“Here in the NFL, you have a position and you have a specific assignment. You’ve got to be on the details,” he said. “There are a lot of different installations and you’ve got to know every single one of them.”
With the unknown status of Johnson and Williams, Childress said he wouldn’t be making any decisions about who will start opposite Sharper in Saturday’s second preseason game at Baltimore, but either way Frampton is sure to receive plenty of opportunities.
Last year, despite playing in only nine games because of his circuitous route to the Vikings, he was fourth on special teams with 14 tackles, but he didn’t register a defensive stat with Minnesota. Back then, he knew special teams would be a way onto the field, and it still might be the way he garners most of his field time this season. But at least now he knows he can handle the defensive assignments if necessary.
“Just moving around from different systems, it was a lot for me. To come in here for me, it was special teams, special teams and learn as much as I can in between, going to the meetings with the DBs (defensive backs). I learned it pretty well and it’s a new year. Now I can apply that,” he said, admitting that it was stressful being with three teams in the course of six months in 2007. “It was, but in a way it was a blessing. It forced me to grow up pretty fast and learn the ropes, learn how to go about things.”
While he is making progress in gaining confidence, one thing he learned is that no NFL job is safe.
“The NFL is just an uncertain place and I learned that. My first year was stressful and this year I understand that anything can happen,” he said. “I understand that coaches demand a lot and we have to produce. I think I’m just comfortable with it because I’m used to it.”