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Preseason preview: Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks present biggest challenge for Seahawks

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Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

The preseason can be dull and an exercise in avoiding injury. The scheme is vanilla; the product is poor; and the players get hurt. Yet these games are everything for players trying to make an NFL roster. Furthermore, opponents are often so stacked at one position that you get to see the Seattle Seahawks’ third stringers go up against one of the league’s best.

We’re talking about teams with guys who will be troublesome in the fourth quarter. Dudes on the bottom end of the roster that will get cut and then immediately be picked up by another team. Think peak-Seattle depth, when the waiving of guys like Jaye Howard and Spencer Ware was made to look foolish—both by the pesky Chiefs.

This Preseason preview mini-series will assess the deepest, most problematic position for a Seahawks unit to face—read it as a “one thing to look for” viewing guide. For example: In Seattle’s case, the linebacker position is the deepest and most challenging for opponents. Linebackers the Seahawks cut as they whittle their roster down to 53 will get snapped up by the rest of the league. The NFL is always watching.

@ Minnesota Vikings—Sunday 08/18 5pm PDT

Next up is a look at Sunday’s opponent; the Minnesota Vikings. First and foremost, this is a chance for the Seahawks to flex the kicking reliability of Jason Myers at the similarly plagued Vikings, who shared—burdened—the pain of the Blair Walsh project.

Minnesota has added yet another kicker, Norweigan Kaare Vedvik, who they gave the Baltimore Ravens a 5th-round pick for on Monday. The aptly named Vikings are also planning to test Vedvik as a punter too. That’s something that’s at least interesting to watch. (The talents of 23-year-old Michael Dickson could save a roster spot on the 53 in the future)

Tight end deserves a mention as a deep group, but it’s on the defense that the deepest, most problematic position is located. Defensive Back guru Mike Zimmer, entering his 6th year as Vikings Head Coach, loves him some cornerbacks. Minnesota’s roster contains three first round corners. The high drafting of the position has become somewhat of a joke amongst the fanbase and even Front Office personnel. Cap-wise, the Vikings are spending the fifth-highest amount on the position per Spotrac.

  • This man supposedly had a dreaded “down year” in 2018, but 2013 1st-round pick Xavier Rhodes is still good enough that he is likely to see only one drive of preseason game two action. His length and jamming technique make him a frightening cornerback who the Vikings had shadow the best receiver in 2018. Injury didn’t help last season and Rhodes will look forward to a (hopefully) fully healthy 2019.
  • Last season the physicality of Trae Waynes saw him become the clear cornerback #2 for the Vikings. The 2015 1st-rounder defends and squeezes the redline well, even if Rhodes matching up with the #1 target eases his task. One of the more underrated jammers in the league with the knack of reaching in to defend passes.
  • In Mackensie Alexander, Minnesota has a second-rounder starting at the nickel spot—imagine being the odd man out as an early Day 2 pick! The 2016 selection struggled in his first two years as he was forced to learn the inside after playing outside at Clemson. Yet the former Tiger bounced back last season, finishing the last half of the year as PFF’s highest graded cornerback in the entire league with an 88.2 grade.
  • The third 1st-round corner, Mike Hughes is looking for a big preseason where he proves himself worthy of starting after recovering from a rookie year ACL injury. Minnesota’s plan appears to be for Hughes to eventually replace Waynes or Alexander as both of their contracts expire next offseason. Hughes started 2 games in 2018. His college film was awesome with his footwork, football IQ and aggression compensating for slightly less impressive testing (4.53s forty) and height (5ft 10).
  • Toasted in week 1 of the preseason, the 6ft, 195lb Bené Benwikere may be a liability for the Vikings just like he was for the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals. Still, the 27-year-old has six years of NFL experienced to rely on and will use that savvy against Seattle’s receivers as he himself looks to stay in the National Football League. Minnesota signed him off the street after cutting Terrance Alexander.
  • In Holton Hill, the Vikings have an athletic, long, physical, ball-playing corner that looked like he could end up a Seattle Seahawk. (6ft 2, 32” arms, 4.59s forty and 6.83s 3-cone) Hill ended up being a 2018 Undrafted Free Agent after failing multiple drugs test at Texas. After staying clean for a rookie year where he started 3 games, Hill has now been suspended for half of 2019 for violating both the league’s PED policy AND the league’s policy on substance’s of abuse. He will be forced to earn a roster spot and plenty of press opportunities will help; “we don’t know if he’s even going to make the team,” reacted Zimmer.
  • Another Texas product, Kris Boyd is similarly athletic (4.45s forty and 6.94s 3-cone), but had gross tape. The 7th round pick is violent when trying to jam, but it’s almost to a fault as he can lunge and get overly grabby with receivers. What’s more: he’s lacking ball skills. This offseason is a chance for him to refine his press technique while bullying receivers. Mobile was brutal. “I’m just coming out here trying to get a job,” commented Boyd. His arm length and height (30 and ¾” and 5ft 11) projects more to the slot. I thought he was best-suited to a cover 2 system.
  • It was impressive enough that 2018 Undrafted Free Agent Craig James managed to see action in 3 NFL games. At Southern Illinois, the 5ft 10, 195lb James was somewhat of a return demon. He’s more of a technician when pressing and lacks strength in his jam.
  • The final former Longhorn, Duke Thomas most recently played in the AAF for the San Antonio Commanders. The 2016 Undrafted Free Agent ran a 4.41 forty and 6.73 3-cone at 5ft 10, 192lbs.
  • A UCLA graduate, Nate Meadors played inside and out for the Bruins. The 5ft 11, 196lber leaped 37 inches vertically and ran a decent 6.97 3-cone. His ability is limited by a lack of experience in press coverage plus an underwhelming 4.52s forty.

You’ll notice that there is a clear motif of “physicality” among the Vikings’ corners. Zimmer loves aggressive cornerbacks who attack receivers and want the ball. “I’d rather tell them whoa than go,” he remarked in April 2018.

Zimmer will put his cornerbacks in the face of receivers and try to dominate them. The makeup of the group, particularly lower down the depth chart, looks like a bunch of dudes who will match-up with the Seahawks as Zimmer sees fit. It’s going to be press-man preseason. Seattle has a wide receiver group full of rookie and inexperienced talent. All are vying for playing time plus places on the final 53.

A big target like Jazz Ferguson, surprisingly smooth for his size, will mainly be expected to separate late and vertically against corners. However, if the Week 1 star can flash some crafty release plans his chances of making the roster will increase. Given his special teams contributions are minimal to his profile, it’s imperative he takes every chance he gets.

Second-round pick D.K. Metcalf dominated rather mediocre press in college with his upper body strength, swatting corners aside while still getting off the line of scrimmage quickly. Will this work against the Vikings’ level of talent?

Gary Jennings had a breakout Monday practice but, as this Seahawks on tape highlighted, his ability to get off press coverage is largely unknown. Playing in the Big 12 and being put in the slot by West Virginia (80.6% of the time in 2018 per SIS), Jennings almost never faced press coverage and was frequently afforded free releases off the LOS. What release plans has he learnt this offseason and can he keep his chest clean?

Press coverage is also a chance for the pure slot-types, such as John Ursua and Keenan Reynolds, to claim that role. 3-cone kings tend to have the “cross-you-up” footwork that can beat press.

It’s time for the regular season wide receivers to emerge.