Depth matters: Vikings pleased with fill-in performance
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings were resigned last weekend to starting a past-his-prime cornerback and an undrafted rookie straight from the practice squad at safety.
That's what can happen when late-season injuries stack up. The credible performance of Terence Newman and Anthony Harris in the last line of the defense at Arizona is also an example of why NFL teams so thoroughly scour for depth. There's no telling when the backups will be summoned for duty.
''The coaches do a good job of finding guys that are able to fit in to what they like to do. Guys that, first off, know what to do and know how to do it,'' Newman said. ''Anthony, I thought he played a hell of a game even though we lost. It was like we really didn't miss a beat out there.''
Though the Cardinals emerged with a 23-20 victory, the Vikings provided plenty of resistance despite the absence of four injured starters on defense. That included safeties Harrison Smith (knee/hamstring) and Andrew Sendejo (knee). With Antone Exum (rib, shoulder) out for the rest of the season, their top backup was missing, too. So rookie Trae Waynes took Newman's spot at cornerback, the 13-year veteran moved back to safety and Harris was thrust into the lineup after spending all season on the practice squad.
''First time out, the game didn't seem too big for him,'' coach Mike Zimmer said. ''He made some good tackles in the ballgame. He had some mistakes like everybody does, but I think he showed some good things.''
Harris, who out of Virginia was one of the team's priority post-draft signings, had eight tackles and a pass breakup against one of the league's most dangerous offenses. Carson Palmer went 25 of 35 for 310 yards, but his touchdown passes of 65 and 42 yards were long runs after short catches caused by poor pursuit and coverage mistakes. The Vikings weren't overmatched.
''I've been trying to stay focused since I got here, taking as much and learning as much from players around me and the coaches,'' Harris said. ''Just stay ready for whenever. So, for them to put the trust in me to go out there and perform, I think it means a lot that they had the confidence in me and I was prepared to go do it.''
He was one of a franchise-record six rookies who started that game, with Waynes, linebackers Eric Kendricks and Edmond Robinson, wide receiver Stefon Diggs and right tackle T.J. Clemmings. Three others played, with meaningful contributions from defensive end Danielle Hunter and tight end MyCole Pruitt.
''Guys that got the opportunity to step up and play, they played well. We hope they can carry on for the rest of the year,'' cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.
Sendejo fully participated in practice Thursday. Smith was a limited participant. The Vikings could be back to normal in the secondary Sunday against Chicago.
''I didn't honestly know I was going to be there last week,'' Newman said, reflecting on playing safety. ''We'll find out this weekend, I guess.''
NOTES: LB Anthony Barr (groin/hand) was held out of practice again, increasing the possibility he'll miss a second straight game after getting hurt early in the Dec. 6 game against Seattle. DT Linval Joseph (foot) practiced on a limited basis, however, a sign he could be ready to return after sitting out the previous two games.
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