This is a multiple part series in which I will be breaking down Vikings position battles, highlighting what players need to do to win their respective starting position.
Vikings cornerback Charles Gordon had everything he had ever dreamed of during the first half of the 2008 season. An undrafted free agent that signed with the Vikings before the 2006 season out of Kansas, he was brought in more for his punt return skills than his ability to play cornerback.
Although he expectedly had a slow start, Gordon kept battling in training camp every season and worked his way into the lineup when the Vikings used multiple defensive back formations and recorded his first interception in 2007 against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Gordon started as the Vikings' nickel defensive back in 2008 until week 10, when his season was ended due to a severe ankle injury he suffered on a punt return against the Green Bay Packers.
This season, many in the media have written him off as the return starter in 2009 due to his injury, thinking he won't recover well enough to be the player he was.
Although it is a long road, Gordon proved he had the heart to compete when he was a virtually unknown at training camp in 2006. These are five things he must do to win back his starting nickel position for the 2009 season in Minnesota.
1. Prove His Injury Has Healed 100 percent
Let's just say that his injury wasn't a minor scrap to the back of the leg. When searching "Charles Gordon" on YouTube.com, the most popular search is his injury. On the play, Gordon tried to dance around a defender but his left foot got caught underneath a falling player.
His body turned but he foot stayed in the same position, and when he was shown laying on the field, his left foot was facing the opposite way it should have been.
Although this is one of the most serious injuries a player can suffer, especially when playing defensive back, Gordon has worked hard this offseason with his rehab and expects to be back on the field playing to the best of his ability.
In order to win his starting spot in the secondary when the nickel package is installed, Gordon must show head coach Brad Childress that his movement and flexibility have not decreased since the injury.
He will also need to prove that he has the quickness in space he had pre-injury, otherwise younger corners like Karl Paymah or Asher Allen could win the job due to their quick reaction times when playing in space.
2. Show He Still Has Straight-Line Speed
Most of the big plays Gordon has made in his career have come from his recovery speed. He simply has had the speed to make up ground when receivers get behind him.
This ankle injury will no doubt have an effect on his speed, but Gordon must show he still has enough speed to play deep zones and that he won't give up the big play because he has lost his mobility.
If he shows in camp that he hasn't lost a step, it will be a big plus because he has always been a guy who can tackle receivers in the open field. Gordon also has good hands and could win the job if he creates enough turnovers during scrimmage and seven-on-seven drills.
3. Improve His Coverage When Playing Wide
I have always been impressed with Gordon's play when lined up against slot receivers on third down. It is hard to find a guy who can chase the quickest receivers around the field while also having the strength to make tackles in the open field but Gordon has shown to have these two attributes.
Although he rarely lines up wide, he must show that he is capable of playing toward the sidelines in case either starters Cedric Griffin or Antoine Winfield are lost due to injury.
Look for the coaching staff to put him against some taller and more physical receivers like Sidney Rice or Bernard Berrian in training camp to test his ability on playing the pass toward the sideline.
4. Help in Run Support
After talking up Gordon's skills in pass coverage, he definitely could improve in an area that Winfield and Griffin excel at, helping in run support.
Gordon is not the biggest defensive back on the field (5'11", 180 lbs.), and that hurts him when he tries to tackle bigger running backs on sweeps and outside handoffs.
This summer in camp, he must show a better job at coming up and hitting running backs at the point of attack. When running backs run into him, they seem to be able to fall forward for a couple more yards.
If Gordon has been following the conditioning program at Winter Park and added some muscle, we should be able to see some improvement in his help against the run.
5. Show Better Awareness In Coverage
Although I have raved about Gordon's straight line speed in this article, he wouldn't need to use it as much if he had better awareness of where receivers are when he is playing zone.
In camp, he can't make many mistakes in coverage if he wants a shot at the starting spot, especially giving up the big play. Many times in the past, I have seen Gordon lose track of a receiver down the field and he has to end up making a play with his head facing opposite the quarterback.
This summer, look for Gordon to improve his vision of the whole field and not letting quicker receivers get behind him.
Although he has a long road back, he is the type of cornerback who welcomes the opportunity. If Gordon shows that he has improved or kept these previous attributes, he has a very good shot at playing the position he had the last time he was on a football field.
-Update: Gordon was on the field during Friday's minicamp session, but was not participating in drills.
Next Article: Five Things Asher Allen Must Do To Win the Vikings' Nickel Job