By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings finished last season with the 31st ranked defense. They allowed 397.6 yards per game, including 287.2 yards through the air. Enter Mike Zimmer.
The Vikings new head coach has a history of building top notch defenses. It was only the preseason, but the transformation has already begun. The Vikings finished with the eighth fewest yards allowed second fewest points allowed in the preseason.
“Keep doing the things that we’ve done in the preseason, we can go out and beat anybody,” Zimmer said. “But we have to go out and do them. We can’t talk about it.”
The Vikings will have seven new starters and all have been decided, except one. Zimmer is still trying to figure out who will start alongside Harrison Smith at safety. Third-year defensive back Robert Blanton is listed ahead of Andrew Sendejo, but an injury limited his reps during training camp and the preseason.
“We’ll see how it goes in practice this week,” Zimmer said. “(Blanton’s) a smart guy. Sometimes, when you make the transition from corner to safety it takes those guys awhile. You have a little bit more athletic ability usually, when you bring a corner in there. It was unfortunate he got hurt early and we didn’t have a chance to see him a little bit more.”
However, the other two positions have been determined, but will not be announced until game time Sunday. The nickel cornerback spot is expected to be Josh Robinson or Marcus Sherels and the starting middle linebacker spot is expected to be Jasper Brinkley or Audie Cole.
Turner knows newcomers
The Vikings claimed two players off waivers Sunday: Tight end MarQueis Gray and offensive tackle Mike Harris. Both players played for offensive coordinator Norv Turner during his two previous coaching stints. Harris played for the San Diego Chargers when Turner was the team’s head coach in 2012. Gray played for the Cleveland Browns last season when Turner was the team’s offensive coordinator.
“(Turner) had a good feeling about both of them,” Zimmer said. “(The Cincinnati Bengals) played against MarQueis last year a couple of times and he’s a good athlete, he has some position flexibility and runs well. Harris is a big tackle that has a chance to help us right away.”
Gray, a 6-foot-4-inch, 242-pound former University of Minnesota star, recorded two catches for eight yards and six rushing attempts for 43 yards as a fullback for the Browns. He will wear jersey No. 87 and play tight end for the Vikings.
Harris, a 6-foot-5-inch, 318-pound former UCLA Bruin, played in 15 games, including nine starts, in 2012. He played five games last season with three starts. He will wear jersey No. 79 for the Vikings.
Both players were signed as undrafted free agents in respective draft years.
The Vikings finished the preseason with a 4-0 record. They are one of three teams to go undefeated in exhibition games. However, that does not mean success in the regular season. Since 2009, 10 teams have gone undefeated in the preseason. Only the Seattle Seahawks last season won their division and three others made the playoffs. Those 10 teams have a combined 70-90 regular season record. While confidence and hope is raising because of the preseason, but expectations will not.
“I don’t know about raising expectations,” he said. “I think we’ve gained some confidence in some of the things, I think we’ve gained confidence in the techniques that we’re teaching and maybe the coaches and what we’re doing offensively and defensively but if our expectations weren’t very high to begin with then we probably wouldn’t be a very good football team anyway.”
The Vikings released cornerback Kendall James, who selected by the team in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft, from the practice squad. He was replaced on the practice squad by undrafted offensive tackle Austin Wentworth.
For more Vikings news and updates, visit Vikings Central.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.