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'I'm Very Confident': Vikings CB Cameron Dantzler Ready to Step In For Patrick Peterson

Peterson will miss at least the next three games while on injured reserve, opening the door for Dantzler.

Vikings second-year cornerback Cameron Dantzler has had a rollercoaster of a season, and it isn't even halfway over yet.

The 2020 third-round pick saw extensive playing time as a rookie and showed flashes of greatness, but he wound up in Mike Zimmer's doghouse this year, falling down the depth chart during training camp to the point where he was a healthy scratch in the season opener. 

That was a wake-up call to Dantzler, who put his head down and got to work, bringing a new approach and level of focus to practice. He got a handful of opportunities in the first six games, stepping in when Bashaud Breeland got banged up in Weeks 2 and 4 and when Patrick Peterson left with a hamstring injury in Week 6. Dantzler carried over his success from last season into those 113 snaps, allowing just five catches for 75 yards on 13 targets in his coverage (per PFF) and breaking up two passes.

"From the beginning, I always came in and did what I had to do just to make myself better," Dantzler said. "I came to work each and every day and I gave 110 percent and me being out Week 1, I feel like that humbled me because I wasn't expecting that, so it just made me push a little more than what I was doing at first."

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Now he has an even bigger opportunity. With Peterson on injured reserve, Dantzler is set to play every snap opposite Breeland at outside corner for at least the next three games. And these aren't just any games, they're against the Cowboys, Ravens, and Chargers. That means Dantzler will be matched up against receivers like CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Mike Williams, and Keenan Allen.

Regardless of who he's facing, the 23-year-old is confident in his ability and ready to take advantage of his chance to be a starter again.

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“I’m very confident," Dantzler said. "I always had to be prepared when my name would be called, so I’m very excited for the moment to be back out there with the guys, making plays and helping this team win."

The Vikings need both Dantzler and Breeland to step up in a big way while Peterson is out. At 3-3, they don't have much margin for error going forward if they want to make the playoffs, much less challenge Green Bay in the NFC North. These next four games — the aforementioned three, plus a game against the Packers when Peterson is first eligible to return — are going to be critical in setting themselves up for the stretch run. If the Vikings' outside corners are struggling, the potent passing games they're facing are going to exploit that in a big way.

Even though Peterson will be out for a while, he's still going to be present and help the other corners, particularly a young guy like Dantzler. After getting injured against the Panthers, he was already watching Cowboys film while beginning his rehab, the 11th-year veteran said on his podcast All Things Covered.

"At the end of the day, I still have an obligation to get my guys ready, my position," Peterson said. "I've gotta make sure he's ready, I think it's gonna be Cam, so I'm still studying like I'm preparing [to play]. I feel like that's what gonna keep me in the game and what's gonna help the rehab go easier."

"He basically just told me to do what I do, do what I do best," Dantzler said of Peterson. "Go out there and be confident, play with swagger. Just be Cam, go out there and play ball. That’s basically what he tells me. He’s like a grandfather to me, basically. He’s that guy who’s going to be 100, keep it real with you, and be straightforward. He’s just like, ‘It’s your time. (I’ll) be out a few weeks. Just go out there and make plays.’"

Starting with Sunday's game and his matchups against Lamb and Cooper, Dantzler is going to be one of the Vikings' most important players over these next few weeks. If he can help slow down receivers of that caliber and make plays on the ball when they're targeted, it'll provide a huge lift for the Vikings' defense. If he struggles and gives up some big plays, Minnesota might be in trouble.

For as long as Peterson is out, we're going to find out what Dantzler is truly capable of.

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