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 positions in 2009.
Vikings cornerback Benny Sapp seemed to fit in well his first year under defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier's scheme, making a few big plays as well as being a nice addition to the defense on sure passing downs.
However, when asking fans about what they remember most about Sapp's first year in purple, they will complain about the penalties he committed when the Vikings absolutely could not afford them.
This summer, Sapp will compete with Karl Paymah, Charles Gordon, and rookie Asher Allen for the team's starting nickel back job for the 2009 season.
Although he has plenty to work on this off-season, he also has an advantage over Allen and Paymah due to having one year of experience in this defense.
These are five things Benny Sapp must do in training camp to win the starting job and play along a very talented Vikings secondary heading into this season.
1. Eliminate the Penalties
In my opinion, more people would be on Sapp's side right now heading into the season had it not been for a couple of very unintelligent penalties he committed in 2008 in very big games.
The first was in a week 13 Monday night game when the Vikings hosted the Bears in a game with first place in the NFC North on the line.
In the second quarter with the Bears up 7-3 and driving, it appeared that the Vikings defense had made a key stop on a third down.
But after the play, Sapp hit Bears wide receiver Rashied Davis in the helmet and was flagged for unnecessary roughness, giving Chicago a first down.
Luckily for Sapp, the defense made a goal line stand at the conclusion of the drive and on the next play, quarterback Gus Frerotte hit a wide-open Bernard Berrian down the left sideline for a 99-yard touchdown in what turned out to be a Vikings win. Whew.
The next week at the Detroit Lions, with the Vikings up 10-6 and trying to hold on to first place in the NFC North, the Minnesota defense was again hurt by a holding penalty on Sapp after stopping the Lions on a third down in the third quarter.
On the next play, Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper fired a 70-yard touchdown to Calvin Johnson to put the Lions on top.
Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson came back with a touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the 4th quarter as the Vikings won 20-16.
This summer in camp, Sapp will need to show in scrimmages that he won't commit silly penalties in big situations. Teams always have officiating crews come in to watch for penalties and look for him to not raise the awareness of the men in stripes.
2. Control Emotions
If you read my article on what Charles Gordon needed to do to win the starting nickel job, you noticed my reference to his injury that was popular on YouTube.com.
Well, you can definitely say the same for Benny Sapp, who at times has let his emotions get the best of him.
When you type in his name, you will find a video titled, "Benny Sapp Goes Postal," in which Sapp is furious on the sidelines with teammates after being called for a personal foul.
Although no incidents took place with teammates in 2008, penalties like the one against Chicago that I mentioned in point No. 1 are bound to happen more if Sapp can't hold his emotions inside.
Having a season under his belt will now help this. Frazier, along with head coach Brad Childress, have seemed to develop a nice core of disciplined players. Look for Sapp to take a more mature role in 2009.
3. Capitalize On Opportunities Given
One play that makes me cringe more than any other during the 2008 season was a play in week 10 against the Packers at the Metrodome.
Sapp was filling in for Gordon after he went down with a gruesome ankle injury he suffered while returning a punt earlier in the game.
Green Bay had the ball at about their own 10 yard line. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a pass over the middle that was tipped by linebacker Ben Leber and fell right into the arms of Sapp, who had a sure pick right in his hands.
However, he failed to concentrate on the ball as it feel right through his arms and into the field turf.
Talk about a play that makes a defensive coordinator grimace.
With even more competition for Sapp this summer at training camp, he will need to hold on to every ball he has a chance at.
Like many say, football is a game of turnovers. If Sapp can't make the play when he has the chance, Frazier and company will find the guy who can.
4. Step Into a Leadership Role
Sapp seemed to be the little brother of the cornerback group last season, it having been his first season wearing purple.
With a free agent in Paymah that is a couple years younger and a rookie in Allen, Sapp could prove a lot to coaches with his knowledge and leadership this season.
When the younger corners on the team have a question, he will need to help them out no matter if it's on the field or in the film room.
When watching Benny Sapp in practice this training camp, watch his communication with the guys around him.
While learning from some solid corners in Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield (assuming there is no contract dispute), he will need to be a teacher as well.
5. Do Not Gamble When It's Not Necessary
When Sapp took over for Gordon after the injury in 2008, he seemed to play well in the slot on quicker receivers.
However, when watching him on film, it seems Sapp likes to gamble on passes a lot. Now, sometimes gambling pays off for defensive backs and it did at times for the 5-year corner.
The part I did not like to see was when the Vikings defense faced some long yardage situations and Sapp took some chances that cost them some big chunks of yardage.
In camp, look for Sapp to give more cushion on wide receivers when the offense is trying to get 15+ yards.
I am not saying he needs to lighten up on jumping routes, just that he needs to be award of when he is doing it and not letting the offense pick up first downs that they had no business converting in the first place.
Next Article: Five Things Karl Paymah Must Do to Win the Vikings' Nickel Job
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