Re: Who the deuce is will hunter? (*NFL draft depth chart of
Here is a review of our DB's from Juanuary.
VB Positional Analysis: Defensive Backs
By Mike Lurie
I decided to choose the defensive backfield as the first VB.com positional analysis piece because after a season like that, I needed some good news. With the 2005 NFL season not even in the books, the Vikings have already been one of the most talked about teams in the league, and that is saying something. Considering all of the possible storylines out there at this time of year (The resurgence of the Patriots, Shaun Alexander's concussion, Jake Plummer's return to the quarterback "A" list...) nothing has crept to the forefront more than the Minnesota Vikings. The repercussions of the "love Boat" incident are still rippling through the media pond, Brad Childress is in and Mike Tice is out, Daunte Culpepper wants to be traded... It seems that even when there is a Superbowl upon us, the Vikings' negative press is still the talk of the town.
For that reason, I decided to focus on the one position that doesn't seem to need any help or require any change. The Vikings' defensive backfield is about as solid as you can get in the National Football League, and even with a few fates sill being determined, it is safe to say that a premier secondary in 2006 is an almost certainty. The hiring of Mike Tomlin from Tampa Bay has all but guaranteed the Vikings some success at the position and that is a refreshing change of pace after these last few years.
in 2005, the secondary seemed to finally get it, and after Antoine Winfield publicly called out Defensive Coordinator Ted Cottrell, something seemed to click and the secondary became the best unit in football next to the vaunted Chicago Bears backfield. In fact over the final 8 games, the Vikings secondary unit had ascended to 2nd on the list in INT's right behind Chicago. This success however seemed to be in spite of Ted Cottrell not because of him. Over the first eight weeks of the season nagging injuries hampered Fred Smoot, and Brian Williams showed the football world what he is capable of when he has some incentive. Unfortunately Minnesota would rather have a Superbowl victory and an overall commitment to the team be the incentive, not a new big dollar contract. Williams did outperform Smoot however and that fact by itself will inherently raise questions. Questions about Williams' future with the team as well as Smoot's.
We were witness to some great rookie performances in 2005. Devonte Edwards was the star for a week when he converted a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. Laroni Gallishaw was a pleasant surprise during the preseason, and contributed sparingly throughout the year until he was finally put on the injured reserve in December for an ankle injury. Both players should make an impact of some kind in the future. Ralph Brown wasn't a rookie in 2005, but he was a player that came of age and made a case for why he should be retained in 2006.
The free agent market had a profound effect on the secondary in 2005 as well. Both Fred Smoot and Darren Sharper headlined what was a very active off season for the Vikings. If either of the two players had any question marks coming into the season it was Darren Sharper, who many Packer fans felt was past his prime and declining rapidly. I wonder who's laughing about that notion now. I'll give you a hint, it's not Packer fans. Fred Smoot however was a disappointment. Whether it was a shoulder or neck injury that was nagging him all season or simply a case of being overhyped, Smoot didn't perform up to expectations in 2005. The secondary only began to experience success after Brian Williams stepped in. That, and the details of Smoot's involvement in the Viking's Boat Party, might be enough to send Fred packing after only one year. I certainly would hate to see Childress and company cash it in on Smoot so soon, but in the end that may be what happens.
From Darren Sharper to Adrian Ward, Ralph Brown to Will Hunter, the one thing that is certain is the level of talent that Minnesota possesses in the defensive backfield. Not only is this unit good, but it's deep as well. So without further delay, the VB.com positional analysis for the defensive backfield:
Darren Sharper: Darren Sharper is probably the most satisfying story in Minnesota in 2005. Not only did he stop being one of the Vikings' biggest adversaries, but he joined the purple fight. Not only that, but he did it after Green Bay fans had stated almost irrevocably that he was yesterday's news. Apparently the headlines are still rolling though, and the last one reads: "Darren Sharper Still Alive And Kicking"... "Kicking" Green Bay's ass that is...
Sharper is a definite returning starter in 2006, and will probably benefit from Mike Tomlin and his new defensive scheme. Ultimately, Sharper still has about 2-3 good years left in the tank, but what he may offer Minnesota that is even more valuable than his services on the field, is going to be what he teaches the young defensive backs in the system that are studying his work ethic and technique.
Antoine Winfield: Winfield's production was hampered slightly by Ted Cottrell's approach to coverage, but that doesn't change the fact that he is still one of the best corners in the league. Unfortunately for the Vikings, Winfield isn't quite as effective when playing 30 yards off the line of scrimmage... at least not when it comes to blanket coverage. Fortunately Winfield can tackle in space, so he was able to overcome the obstacle of not being put in a position to be successful.
The arrival of Mike Tomlin as Defensive Coordinator is good for everybody, but not quite as good as it will be for Winfield. It was Winfield's critical public comments about Ted Cottrell not sticking to the game plan that seemed to spark the unit's awakening. It will be Winfield that experiences the most change from Mike Tomlin's scheme, and he should benefit from that change more than any of the other DB's. In a zone defense, Antoine will be able to jam at the line of scrimmage and not be relied upon so heavily for deep one on one coverage. This plays right into Winfield's strengths and should be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Corey Williams & Brian Chavous: No that's not a typo. They share the same attitude problems and overrated talent, so I just thought it would be nifty to assign them the same name. Both players made it a point of telling the world that they would not be back, and both players took their names off of their lockers in unison after the final game of the season. I wonder if they both stomped back to their cars after the final game and enjoyed a good cry together as well? Either way, it would seem like a new chapter in the Minnesota Vikings story and this is the chapter where the Vikings show these twins the door.
The fact of the matter is that Chavous has been an overrated player for a few years now. Widely known for being a "student of the game", Chavous seems to get by on his big brain. Unfortunately, you need a little more than superior intellect to be a DB in the NFL, you need to be able to run and hit and be in the position that your elite wisdom just told you is where the ball carrier is going to be.
Williams on the other hand is a very talented specimen, but only when he wants to be. A case can be made that Williams only had a down year in 2004 because of nagging injuries, and to some extent this may be a fact, but there is a very distinct ego problem coming from the Williams camp, and it's one that is bigger than Williams himself. Even if the Vikings were inclined to bring him back, which is a possibility with all of the new faces in the defensive coaching staff, Williams would be too expensive to retain. Coming off of a franchise tag year, Williams will assuredly command a higher salary than he is worth if he stays in Minnesota. needless to say, I am expecting Williams to be starting for another team in 2006 and playing sub-par football for the next 2-3 years until his next contract season.
Corey Chavous has decided to follow suit with Williams, but there is a chance that he could come to his senses and return to Minnesota. If that happens, Chavous is certainly serviceable enough to form one fourth of the defensive backfield, but the odds of Chavous being in a purple uniform next year is highly unlikely... unless the Ravens make a play for him in free agency.
Fred Smoot: Every year there is a free agent player that makes a move to another city and is heralded as the "steal" of free agency. When the season starts and the player doesn't live up to expectations, he is swiftly transformed into the "bust" of free agency. It's a sad phenomenon, but it's true. I believe the biggest contributing factor in this phenomenon is that free agency is a depot of talent which consists of damaged goods and up and coming players with no real experience. Very rarely do you get a player via free agency that doesn't come with a fair amount of question marks or baggage. The players that don't carry the baggage never make it to free agency, they either get franchise tagged, re-signed quickly for a lot more money, or traded for another baggage free talent. Fred Smoot was this year's steal turned bust and the jury is still out on whether Smoot is making a living off of skill or off of reputation.
In Smoot's defense, he was playing injured early in the season, and never quite made it back to 100%. A Sprained neck and subsequent shoulder and elbow injuries hampered Smoot in his first season in Minnesota and allowed a hungry Brian Williams to step in and impress. On the other hand, Smoot was victimized by Steve Smith on the Sunday that he was supposed to be back at full strength. Smith took Smoot to school in a way that no professional athlete should ever be schooled and Smoot topped it off with a season ending injury. Needless to say, Fred Smoot becomes a serious question mark for the future. There was already fodder prior to the acquisition that he was more "opportunistic" than he was good, and that he would be seeing more burns than a M*A*S*H unit. Looks like the prognosticators might have been right about this one.
I've heard the argument that nobody would be able to cover a player like Steve Smith with the kind of pressure the Vikings defensive line was getting at the time, but the fact of the matter is that Brian Williams operated successfully with the same exact defensive line for the remainder of the season, so Smoot should have been able to suck it up at least marginally more than he did. As it stands now, Smoot's performance of 2005 ranks down around the early years of DeWayne Washington's career.
Lastly, Smoot's involvement in the Vikings Boat Party makes his presence on the team another reminder for Zygi Wilf of everything he doesn't want the Vikings to be. I would hate to see Smoot become the scapegoat for the boat party, but it's no secret that the local zealots enjoy a good lynching now and then. I wouldn't support the idea of trading Smoot so soon after his arrival in Minnesota, but I would understand the reasons if it happens. In the end, Smoot is a guy that wants to remain in Minnesota and he is anxious to show the football world that last year was a fluke, but it may not be enough.
Willie Offord: If there was ever a player on the bubble, it's Willie Offord. Coming into his fifth season as a pro, Offord needs to put together an impressive, full 16 game performance in 2006 if he doesn't want to go the way of the bust. With Corey Chavous likely leaving, Offord should get his chance.
In college, Offord was the consummate pro, the leader of the Gamecock defense and a guy that was going to make an impact in the NFL at either safety or linebacker. In his rookie season for the Vikings, Offord showed flashes of gamebreaking talent, but behind Corey Chavous and Brian Russell (who was experiencing a career season in 2003) Offord wasn't going to be getting much starting time. In 2004, Offord filled in for an injured Corey Chavous for the final 2 games of the regular season and the Vikings' wildcard playoff game in Green Bay. He was a big part of the Vikings' win at Lambeau and showed in a short amount of time that he could be counted on in big games.
Offord Started the 2005 season off the same way he ended it in 2004 and made a strong push for a starting roster spot. With Corey Chavous pouting about his contract, Offord became the front runner to win the job. In many fans' opinion, Offord should have, but when Chavous folded on his bluff to hold out for the season and showed up on time for training camp, Coach Tice gave Offord a backseat. It was a move that seemed to go against common logic, but it was made moot a few weeks later when Offord suffered a torn ACL
With Mike Tomlin instituting a version of the zone-two defense in Minnesota, Offord should be ideally suited to play Strong Safety in the new scheme. As somebody with better closing speed than timed speed and linebacker's hitting ability, Offord could be an integral part of what Mike Tomlin and the Vikings do in 2006. The only question mark now becomes the knee injury, but Offord has been quoted in a recent Palatka Daily News article as saying that his recovery is about a month and a half ahead of schedule. If Offord can return to the same form that he ended the 2004 season and started the 2005 season with, then he should be the front runner for the starting SS job. If Corey Chavous leaves, Offord will be the only true SS on the roster, so re-signing him should be a priority. He is an Unrestricted Free Agent this year as well, so there may be some offers out there, but ultimately the injury has hurt his stock. Offord wasn't a starter prior to the injury, so retaining him shouldn't be a difficult task.
Ralph Brown: After an iron man career in college that saw Brown start in 51 straight games for Nebraska, a kidney laceration cut his production short early in his career. When he returned, he was a serviceable young player for an unspectacular Giants' secondary. Ralph's career never really took off in New York, and he found himself in Washington for a brief stint with the ever changing Redskins. The Vikings signed Brown when Ken Irvin ruptured his achilles in 2004 and got a little more than what they paid for. If nothing else, Brown endeared himself to Viking fans when he recorded his 1st career playoff interception off of Brett Favre at Green Bay.
Brown is another Unrestricted Free Agent in 2006, and will have a good chance of returning and continuing to contribute in the new defensive scheme. He could see some market interest and should be a more valuable commodity than Willie Offord for most teams due to Offord's injury, so I expect to see more interest in Brown from outside the organization. If given the opportunity, Ralph Brown could be a very solid nickel corner, he may be ready to step into a starting role, however I wouldn't count on him to be a shut down corner at this point in his career. At times, Brown has looked better than even Winfield in coverage. Unfortunately it is consistency that Brown lacks. That may be something that Mike Tomlin can easily fix.
Will Hunter: Hunter is an intriguing specimen. At one time or another he played every position in the secondary at Syracuse. He faced All Pro quarterback Donovan McNabb daily, and he boasted a refreshing combination of speed and hitting ability. None of that meant much when he didn't get drafted however. Having to prove himself as an undrafted rookie, Hunter was able to catch on with the NY Jets in 2003, where he would remain for the next 18 months. In 2004 the Vikings came calling and Hunter was given an opportunity to make it with a defense in flux. This past season, he showed flashes of big league potential in limited opportunities. Now Hunter finds himself at a crossroads once again. With the fate of Corey Chavous, Willie Offord and Brian Williams still yet to be determined, Hunter has an opportunity to step right in during mini-camp, and through the preseason and win a nickel or dime spot on the Vikings' roster. With a starting role, Hunter would also be an instant winner in the payday sweepstakes.
There is no better opportunity for Hunter than Minnesota in 2006. If he plays his cards right, he could be an integral part of Mike Tomlin's Viking-2 defense. The one thing that Hunter has in his favor is his interesting combination of speed and size. A "coverage safety" of sorts, Hunter is able to stay with just about any receiver but still lay the wood when needed.
The bottom line for the Vikings and for Hunter is that having solid depth at the skill positions is a recipe for certain success. In the new world of four and five receiver sets, nickel and dime corners and safeties are becoming a more valuable commodity. A guy that knows the organization, knows the players, and does not command an outrageous salary, is a guy that will go far. I expect to see Hunter on the NFL map in 2006 with the Minnesota Vikings.
Laroni Gallishaw: Gallishaw is a complete enigma to most Viking fans. He started his college career at Louisville and had a tremendous redshirt season. In 2000 he was named to the All-CUSA Freshman Team and earned the respect of his teammates as a legitimate shut-down corner. Unfortunately for Gallishaw, he was declared academically ineligible after his sophomore season and was forced to transfer to Murray State, where he continued to impress. There was some talk of Gallishaw getting drafted in the closing rounds in 2005 and he was largely considered to be a "sleeper" for the later rounds, but it never happened. Contrary to popular expectations, Gallishaw was passed up by all 32 NFL teams and had to catch on as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Vikings. As a rookie, Gallishaw actually looked like the Vikings' best cover corner at times during training camp. Against the second and third team receivers, Gallishaw was dominating. Clearly there is talent here, it simply comes down to how dedicated Laroni is to succeeding, and how well the Vikings can cultivate his talent.
There have been some questions of dedication surrounding Gallishaw however, which is perhaps the only roadblock in what has otherwise been a fairly solid young career. More dedication to his studies could have made the difference between playing Division 1A football for Louisville and Division 1AA for Murray State. There is no doubt that if Laroni had finished his college career at Louisville in the same manner in which he started it, he would have been no worse than a mid-round draft pick.
Adrian Ward & Dustin Fox: Both players are complete question marks at this point. We have seen less of Adrian Ward than we have from Laroni Gallishaw, and even less of Dustin Fox. The best case scenario is that one of these players steps up in training camp and preseason and earns a job on special teams in dime or eagle situations. The worst case scenario is that they sign on with the practice squad. Still, both of these players are better than a 2006 draft pick from the same round just by proxy of having one year of experience at the NFL level.
Summary: With the team in such a state of flux, it becomes difficult to predict the direction they will be going. A completely new coaching staff may take the secondary in an entirely new direction, Or it might become a priority to resign all of the veteran talent from 2005 and return an identical secondary. It would seem that due to financial or personal reasons, the latter would not be an option. Corey Chavous and Brian Williams are probably not going to don the purple again, that is a reality, but with youngsters like Will Hunter, Devonte Edwards, Laroni Gallishaw and Adrian Ward, the Vikings should be stocked with young talent for years to come.
I expect to see Darren Sharper and Antoine Winfield return in the same form that they left in 2005. Sharper is a turnover machine that is already looking like the best safety that this team has seen since Joey Browner, and if he can play for three more years it should be in Minnesota. Antoine Winfield is a tremendous athlete that hits and wraps like no other corner in the league. For a player of Winfield's stature, he may be pound for pound the best tackler in the NFL. As I mentioned earlier, Corey Chavous and Brian Williams are probably gone, and in all honesty that may be the best thing for everybody. Willie Offord seems ready to step into the starting role, and while Corey Chavous was removing his name from his locker, Offord was one of the first players to meet individually with Brad Childress and Mike Tomlin. If Offord is ready to step into the spotlight, then he has my vote. At the very least, he is somebody that wants to stay in Minnesota, and probably the team's best hitter (not to be confused with best tackler).
Fred Smoot is the fans choice for the other outside spot, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it will be handed to him. The fact is, Smoot looked horrible at times in 2005. Brian Williams on the other hand showed the same promise he displayed earlier in his career, and more than likely that is what the front office will look at. The other factor is Smoot's involvement in the party boat incident, which makes him a candidate for scapegoat. The fact of the matter is that Zygi Wilf wants to rid the blemish from this team's reputation, and removing Fred Smoot helps to that end. Devonte Edwards or Ralph Brown could both be options for the other cornerback spot, but Brown is a free agent and Edwards is still probably too green for prime time. In the event that Brian Williams and Ralph Brown both jet in free agency, there are some good names on the market such as Renaldo Hill and Will Allen. Edwards and Brown would then fit nicely in nickel and dime roles and special teams. Will Hunter is the ideal back-up player for both Safety Spots and Dustin Fox could make some noise this year as well.
The words "Sound Secondary" have not been synonymous with the Minnesota Vikings over the past decade, but this is one area of the team that doesn't need much improvement. There are some question marks, but even with the potential loss of a couple players, this is still one of the strongest spots on the team.
What we've got here is failure to communicate.