Alan Williams, the Vikings rookie defensive coordinator, isn’t afraid to make his mark on his defense. In his first training camp press conference, Williams said the Vikings will limit Antoine Winfield’s snaps in an effort to keep the 35-year-old healthy and fresh.
“We want to be smart about how we use him, about how we play him, and really … some of that’s going to be how fast some of our younger guys or some of the guys that we brought in come up to speed. So, that’s yet to be determined. But we do know that he’s going to be on a pitch count. What that pitch count is, I don’t know yet.”
Winfield has had his share of injury problems. He has missed 17 games in the last three years missing six games with a foot injury in 2009 and 11 combined games last year, four games with a neck strain and seven with a broken collarbone.
With each passing season, Winfield’s career draws nearer to an end and the Vikings come closer to complete incompetence at cornerback. The Vikings have spent plenty of draft picks trying to counteract this dilemma, but at this point, none are solving the problem.
2007 third-round pick Marcus McCauley never amounted to anything and now plays for the Sacramento Mountain Lions in the United Football League. Asher Allen, 2009 third-round pick, failed to take the league by storm and surprisingly retired in May after just three years in the league citing a loss of passion for the game.
2006 second-round pick Cedric Griffin was a good player, but ended up tearing the ACLs in both his knees and is now getting torched by the speedsters in Redskins camp. 2010 second-round pick Chris Cook has shown promise, but Cook’s injuries and off-field issues have limited him to playing in only 12 games since coming into the league.
The Vikings signed eight-year veteran Chris Carr in free agency, and to this point, he has practiced as the third cornerback in the nickel package. But the 29-year-old Carr isn’t exactly a spring chicken, and Carr only played in nine games last year due to a hamstring injury. He is nothing but a short-term Band-Aid on this problem.
In April, the Vikings spent a third-round pick on cornerback Josh Robinson. It’s far too early to tell if he will pan out, but Robinson has been on the sidelines with a hamstring injury since Day 1 of training camp, and the Vikings haven’t had the best luck drafting corners.
Filling out the rest of the depth chart are Marcus Sherels, Brandon Burton and Zackary Bowman, who was a backup in Chicago before signing a one-year deal with Minnesota in free agency. Reggie Jones, a practice-squad player last year, may have emerged as a dark horse at cornerback, but we are a long way from deeming him the heir apparent.
For a team looking to rest the best player they have in the secondary, the Vikings don’t have a lot of backup options, especially against the pass-happy NFC North teams who know the Vikings weaknesses and will surely bring out four and five wide receiver sets often.
“The body’s not going to stay young forever,” Williams said of Winfield. “So he can rely on his years of experience to play and play well, and we realize that there are only so many reps that a body has.”
Winfield, who is smaller and slower than many NFL wide receivers, is better suited for the more physical style and shorter routes of the slot position, so his move to nickel and dime coverages makes sense.
But who can fill in on the outside?