Cameron Dantzler is eight years younger than Patrick Peterson, the cornerback he's replacing in the Vikings' starting lineup on Sunday night against the Cowboys.
As far as NFL experience goes, Dantzler might as well be 80 years younger, which is how he spoke about his 11th NFL start. Peterson would have been making his 161st start against Dallas, but a hamstring injury will keep him sidelined for at least the next three games.
"He's like a grandfather to me," Dantzler said of Peterson. "He's that guy who's going to be 100, keep it real with you, and be straightforward. He's just like, 'It's your time. [I'll] be out a few weeks, just go out there and make plays.'"
Peterson, a three-time All-Pro pick, has been credited for mentoring the Vikings' young corners since arriving on a one-year deal this offseason. But now Dantzler is back in the spotlight, where any progress made in a rocky second Vikings season will be illuminated on national television against Cowboys receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.
Dantzler, a 2020 third-round pick, went from starting 10 games as a rookie to being a healthy inactive in Week 1. He said he was humbled and driven to "push a little more" in practices, and coach Mike Zimmer said he has indeed seen a difference.
"He's been a little bit more focused on what he's trying to do out there," Zimmer said. "He's had opportunities to make some plays."
Since Week 1, Dantzler has appeared in three games on defense, playing nearly the entire Week 4 loss to the Browns after replacing Bashaud Breeland. He missed the next game against Detroit due to a positive COVID-19 test and 10-day quarantine, which briefly set back his plans to add weight to a wiry 6-foot-2 frame.
"I'm probably like 180 [pounds] right now," Dantzler said. "Lost a few pounds due to COVID, but I feel like I'm starting to get my weight back thanks to the nutrition and I'm feeling great right now."
'A little more low key'
Right tackle Brian O'Neill said the Vikings offensive line is off to a "good start" this season, but he didn't do much to celebrate during the bye week. The 26-year-old O'Neill just got a $20 million signing bonus on a new contract, and his goal for the long weekend off was to disconnect as much as possible. Players returned Monday to TCO Performance Center, where they began studying the Cowboys.
"It's a little more low key," O'Neill said of his bye week. "Try to settle my mind. Not really be around a ton of people, just kind of get away and escape mentally. My rookie year, I was going home, going back to the University of Pittsburgh, trying to see a bunch of people, try to do a bunch of things I thought I was missing."
Zimmer went back to his 267-acre ranch in Walton, Ky., where he said he spent time with his family between watching Vikings game film and virtual meetings with coaches.
"I had my grandkids there with me," Zimmer said. "I semi-watched some games this week, but not really. I didn't really pay that close attention to them."
Defensive end Stephen Weatherly was playing only a handful of defensive snaps per game, which is why he requested the trade that sent him to Denver over the weekend. But there's now some playing time available on the Vikings behind Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and D.J. Wonnum.
Zimmer was noncommittal Monday when asked if third-round rookie Patrick Jones II would be active for the first time. He did, however, allude to Kenny Willekes, the only defensive end currently on the practice squad, getting elevated for Sunday.
"It's possible," Zimmer said of Jones playing. "He's another guy that's working into things. We've got some other guys that we might elevate, move guys around. Each week is going to be a little different."