After third offseason under Zimmer, CB Shaun Prater feeling it 'click'
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MINNEAPOLIS - Where six other Minnesota Vikings defensive backs saw the sideline, cornerback Shaun Prater envisioned opportunity.
Prater, 24, deflected a pass and nearly downed a Jeff Locke punt inside the five-yard line during Friday's preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders, which is his fourth career 'friendly' under Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.
"It's like going into your junior, senior year of college," Prater said. "You finally get it; in your freshman year, you're like 'man, I don't know any of this stuff.' Now, this is my third camp with coach Zimmer."
As a defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals, Zimmer drafted Prater in the fifth round (156th overall) in 2012 as a three-year starter out of Iowa. A knee injury derailed Prater's rookie season, forcing him to have surgery and sit the entire year on the Bengals' injured reserve.
Prater appeared in three preseason games for Cincinnati in 2013, but didn't do enough to avoid the final cuts to 53. He was claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia Eagles, but was released less than two months later after his one appearance was just on special teams.
That's where the Vikings came in - with three cornerbacks injured and one kicked off the team, Minnesota signed Prater halfway through last season. He appeared in eight games, starting the last three, including a tilt against the Eagles in which he grabbed his first career interception.
The Vikings have a division-high 19 defensive backs on the 90-man roster, but six did not play on Friday as Robert Blanton, Jamarca Sanford, Marcus Sherels, Josh Robinson, Chris Crocker and Andrew Sendejo watched from the sideline. Mistral Raymond also left early with a head injury and did not return.
"I see the same [opportunity] as last year," Prater said. "I came in to start the last three, we were able to win two out of the three and I made some plays to help us win."
Prater was listed at the bottom of the Vikings' first unofficial depth chart at right cornerback, with the order being: Xavier Rhodes, Jabari Price, Derek Cox, Kendall James and finally Prater.
However, after deflecting a pass intended for Raiders receiver Juron Criner as well as making impressions on special teams - Zimmer noticed, but not without pointing out corrections that festered off the top of his head.
"Well Prater did some good things," Zimmer said. "There was a third-and-16 he didn't sink much into, the guy almost caught the ball on us. Those are the kind of things I see a lot. But Shaun is a tough kid, he's been with me before in Cincinnati, and he'll go out and compete all day long."
Prater agreed with the coach's assessment, but figures his third chance under Zimmer will take him the farthest.
"Finally catching on and it's clicking," Prater said. "I feel confident."