The day before the Vikings' first full practice of training camp Wednesday, coach Mike Zimmer was cautiously optimistic about his remade cornerback room, in which more than half of the 11 players weren't on the team last season.
Zimmer lauded the front office's offseason roster shuffling, with much of the focus on fixing last year's porous defense by signing veteran corners in Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander and Bashaud Breeland. Those three could possibly start in Zimmer's often-used nickel defense, giving him a completely retooled secondary around safety Harrison Smith.
"I feel pretty good about it," Zimmer said Tuesday at TCO Performance Center. "We've got some good depth there. Proof is in the pudding; we've got to go out there and cover."
There is much to prove. Breeland's first snap with the Vikings defense will come in training camp as he's still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, which kept him out of spring practices. He'll ramp up work early in camp, according to Zimmer.
Expectations remain high for Peterson, the former All-Pro Cardinals corner. Second-year corner Cameron Dantzler, who was unable to practice this spring because of an apparent leg injury, also has much to prove as Zimmer has called for better physical and mental durability.
"Pat had a really good spring," Zimmer said. "Breeland was hurt, so he hasn't done anything, but he's going to start getting out here a little bit now. And then Dantzler was hurt. I know he has a bunch of ability, but he's got to get a little bit more belief in himself."
Zimmer didn't mention Jeff Gladney, the 2020 first-round pick whose availability is unknown after an April arrest on suspicion of felony domestic assault. Texas prosecutors will present the case against Gladney on Thursday to a Dallas County grand jury, which will decide whether prosecutors can bring forward charges. Spielman wouldn't say whether Gladney was reporting to camp Tuesday with the rest of the team.
"Until this situation is resolved, we cannot have any further comment on that," Spielman said.
Westbrook 'ready' for WR race
Newly signed receiver Dede Westbrook is "ready to go" for practice only nine months after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee with the Jaguars, Zimmer said. Westbrook had an impressive workout over the weekend that confirmed his health, according to Zimmer, who added Westbrook will bolster both receiver and punt returner competitions.
"It's going to be one of the most competitive positions on our roster," Spielman said. "Dede is going to come in and have to get caught up, but with [receivers coach] Keenan McCardell coaching him the last four years [in Jacksonville], it's a huge advantage."
The Vikings will "continue to monitor" available kickers, Spielman said, as they open camp with only one healthy kicker in Greg Joseph. Joseph's current competition, undrafted rookie Riley Patterson, was placed on the physically unable to perform list because of an undisclosed injury. Patterson will be ready "shortly," Spielman said, after the Memphis product missed the last two weeks of June practices because of injury.
"It's hard to tell in practice. Greg Joseph made every kick [this spring]," Zimmer said. "We tried to put him in pressure situations and things like that. I do believe that we have to be better in special teams overall."
Twyman shelved, Pierce recovering
A revamped defensive line will be without two pieces to start camp as nose tackle Michael Pierce is recovering from a calf strain suffered while training this month, and rookie defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman is recovering from four gunshot wounds suffered during a Washington D.C. shooting in June.
Pierce has been working out at team facilities in Eagan, according to Spielman, while neither Spielman nor Zimmer would say when the 340-pound defender will return. The team stashed Twyman on the reserve/non-football injury list, which will give him time to recover as NFL rules mandate he's out at least eight games.
"Any time you've been shot four times," Zimmer said, "you're going to be a little bit, what's the word I'm looking for, maybe nervous about things is the best way to say it. We'll just take our time with him and go from there."
Easing in Darrisaw
Tackle Christian Darrisaw reported for camp with fellow rookies Sunday, giving coaches a few days of on-field evaluation as he recovers from a lingering groin issue that was surgically repaired in January. Darrisaw, the Vikings' first-round pick, was limited to a few plays at a time during the final week of spring practices, and coaches will continue to bring him along slowly.
"He feels good," Zimmer said. "The last couple days he was out here, he moved well. We're going to be very careful with him these first few days."