New Generation: The 2009 Minnesota Vikings Secondary

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IMay 10, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 14:  Cedric Griffin #23 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after intercepting a pass in the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 14, 2008 in Glendale, Arizona. The Vikings defeated the Cardinals 35-14.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Wow, how times have changed.

It seems like it was not too long ago where the league's best receivers were having no problem cutting and dicing the Vikings secondary.

Come to think of it, it was only about five years ago when corners such as Chris Dishman, Wasswa Serwanga, and Denard Walker were getting beat up and down the field.

I will never forget the Vikings secondary breaking down on the last play of the 2003 season as Cardinals' quarterback Josh McCown hooked up with wide receiver Nate Poole in the back of the end zone to stop the purple from winning the NFC North title and clinching a spot in the playoffs.

In 2008, the Vikings proved to me that indeed they can stop the pass. After finishing dead last in pass defense in the NFL in 2007, they make significant improvements with the help of new-comer safety Madieu Williams.

Williams was one of the biggest free agent signings before the 2008 season for the Vikings. The team had recently let go of 2007 starter Dwight Smith, who was signed by the Detroit Lions.

With excitement building in training camp, Williams suffered a serious neck injury that kept him out the first six games of the season, pushing rookie Tyrell Johnson into the starting role next to Darren Sharper.

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However, when Williams returned, he provided a spark for the defense, intercepting quarterback Sage Rosenfels in the end zone and helping the Vikings win a much needed game.

He will return in 2009 with one year of experience in defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier's system and be a leader in the secondary.

The man who filled in for Williams when he was down with a neck injury, Tyrell Johnson, will start next to him this season after the departure of veteran Darren Sharper to the Saints in free agency.

Johnson was a surprise pick of the Vikings in the second round of the 2008 draft but was definitely a guy the team doesn't regret drafting.

He filled in nicely for Williams in the first part of the season, intercepting one pass and finishing the year with 31 tackles. Along with his aggressive style on defense, Johnson also was a key player on special teams.

In 2009 he, like Madieu Williams, will have a year of experience in the system under his belt. The Vikings have no problem starting him in only his second year.

At corner, the Vikings have their emotional leader in Antoine Winfield, who joined the team as a free agent in 2004. Since then, Winfield has been known for his help in run support, a corner who is not afraid to come up and hit a running back off the edge.

Drafted No. 23 overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 1999 NFL Draft, he has been knocked for his height (5'9"). However, you will not find a corner more involved in tackles while also being a solid coverage corner.

In 2008, Winfield finished the season with 95 tackles and two interceptions, along with four forced fumbles.

He will be the leader once again for the Vikings secondary in 2009 and a guy you can always count on to make the big play.

Starting opposite of him will be third-year corner Cedric Griffin who the Vikings selected in the second round of the 2006 draft.

Many questioned his cover skills as a rookie, he occasionally got beat on some fade routes and slant patterns. Much of the time the team needed to put safety help over the top of him.

In the 2008 season, Griffin showed vast improvement, almost looking like a miniature Winfield. He showed he has no problem coming up to stop the run as well as being an aggressive hitter in the secondary.

Griffin finished the season with 91 tackles and had a spectacular interception against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15. He also added an interception in the team's lone playoff game against the Eagles.

In 2009, the team will expect Griffin to become another leader in the secondary. He has a bright future as a starting corner in the league.

The Vikings will have a competitive battle for the nickel position this summer in training camp. Last year, cornerback Charles Gordon assumed that role but his season was cut short after a severe ankle injury against the Packers in week ten while returning a punt.

Cornerback Benny Sapp, a free agent addition in 2008, stepped in a played decent. Sapp was a guy many quarterbacks picked on and he also had a problem with penalties, sometimes keeping oppositions' offensive drives going with silly penalties.

Added this year is free agent cornerback Karl Paymah, who played in Denver last season. Paymah is a speedy corner who doesn't have much experience, so this opportunity should let coaches see what he brings to the table.

With improvements showing last season, look for an even better season from the 2009 Vikings secondary. With young players having a chance to learn the system in previous years, this unit should gel in 2009 and make many big plays.


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