Vikes bench CB Smoot; Griffin to play vs. Cardinals
[size=14pt]Vikes bench CB Smoot; Griffin to play vs. Cardinals[/size]
By Len Pasquarelli
Six-year veteran Fred Smoot, who was supposed to team with Antoine Winfield to provide the Minnesota Vikings one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL, has been benched in favor of rookie Cedric Griffin.
People close to Smoot on Friday confirmed the move, which was first reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
It is not known how long the demotion will last, but if Griffin plays well in Sunday's home game against the Arizona Cardinals, it is conceivable that the second-round draft choice and former University of Texas star could keep the job the rest of the season. Griffin is a physical hitter, a cornerback blessed with safety-type size, and the Vikings coaches like his tenacity.
Griffin is nursing a neck injury and is officially listed as "questionable" on the injury report but will play on Sunday. Smoot is expected to play as a nickel corner.
Smoot, 27, was signed by the Vikings as an unrestricted free agent in 2005, landing a six-year, $34 million contract that included nearly $11 million in signing and roster bonuses. But in his two seasons with the team, Smoot, who began his career with the Washington Redskins in 2001, has appeared in only 20 games and has just two interceptions.
The former second-round draft choice has appeared in nine games this season, with eight starts, and has 43 tackles, no interceptions and two passes defensed. He was benched for the start of the Sept. 24 game against Chicago after being late to a team meeting. More recently, he missed practice time after the death of his half-brother in a car accident.
In 2005, Smoot, one of that year's most coveted unrestricted free agents, started the first eight games of the season. He then missed four games because of a collarbone injury and never regained his starting job.
The former Mississippi State star has 294 career tackles, 18 interceptions and 42 passes defensed in 80 appearances.
Minnesota has lost four straight games and the Vikings defense statistically ranks 26th against the pass.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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