The Vikings begin training camp Wednesday. We're previewing camp with a look at each position group. Today: Defensive backs.
Cornerbacks: Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, Tye Smith, Dylan Mabin, Parry Nickerson, Amari Henderson
Safeties: Harrison Smith, Xavier Woods, Camryn Bynum, Myles Dorn, Josh Metellus, Luther Kirk
In: Peterson (free agent), Alexander (free agent), Woods (free agent), Breeland (free agent), Bynum (fourth-round pick), Smith (free agent), Nickerson (free agent), Henderson (free agent)
Out: S Anthony Harris (free agent), CB Mike Hughes (traded), CB Chris Jones (free agent), CB Cordrea Tankersley (cut), CB Tae Hayes (cut)
A revamped secondary could be returning only one opening-day starter – safety Harrison Smith – from last season. Last year's starting corners, Dantzler and Gladney, have been buried on the depth chart by a flurry of free-agent signings starting with Peterson, a former All-Pro. His leadership in a young room will be paramount, as will his ability to prove he's still got it in his 11th season. Alexander, the Vikings' 2016 second-round pick, also returned on a one-year deal in free agency. The front office added another possible starter in June by signing Breeland, who has 81 deflections in 88 regular season starts for three NFL teams. The Vikings coaching staff wanted Dantzler to bulk up and become more durable, but he was unable to practice this spring due to an undisclosed leg injury. Gladney's availability is in question. He awaits a July 29 grand jury in Dallas County that will decide whether he's indicted on allegations of felony domestic assault stemming from an April arrest. Inexperienced backups Boyd and Hand got a lot of first-team reps this spring while Breeland, Dantzler and Gladney missed time.
After safety Anthony Harris signed with the Eagles in free agency, Woods was signed to be the ninth different starter next to Smith, now the Vikings' longest-tenured player. Woods signed a one-year deal in March, reuniting with first-year defensive backs coach Karl Scott, who coached Woods in 2015 at Louisiana Tech.
Corners No. 3, No. 4, No. 5… The Vikings signed six free agents at cornerback this offseason, meaning more than half of the 11-man position room is a new face. The playing time won't be handed back to Dantzler or Gladney, if available, after they combined to start 25 games as rookies. Alexander practiced as a starter all spring, and Breeland is expected to vie for a spot in the lineup once he's fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Peterson. He has been a shutdown corner in the past, which the Vikings haven't had under Zimmer since Xavier Rhodes was an All-Pro pick in 2017. Part of Peterson's pull to Minnesota was the potential to jumpstart his career under Zimmer. The veteran coach and former superstar have bet on each other this season as both look to rebound. Peterson, 31, turned back the clock by picking his former LSU jersey number – 7 – to wear in purple and gold once again; the Vikings hope he can turn back time on the field, too.
ONE BIG QUESTION
Will investment turn into production at corner? Six. That's the number of combined interceptions by Vikings corners the past two years. It's the franchise's fewest in back-to-back seasons since 2001-2002. Last year was particularly brutal as corners combined for just 19 pass deflections. Peterson, Alexander and Breeland were signed to change that.