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Updated: January 2nd, 2013 1:39pm
Alan Williams expects Antoine Winfield to play, but evaluating options

Alan Williams expects Antoine Winfield to play, but evaluating options

by Tom Pelissero
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Alan Williams says he doesn't have "any doubt" veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield will find a way to play through a broken hand on Saturday.

But the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator said coaches are holding auditions in practice to see if there's a better backup plan than Marcus Sherels, who struggled in Sunday's win over the same Green Bay team they'll face in the NFC wild-card playoffs.

"Ultimately, it's always the next man up," Williams said. "The next guy would be Sherels if he's up, and then after that, we're working some combinations."

That includes A.J. Jefferson, Josh Robinson and a couple of safeties Williams didn't mention by name, although Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton -- who both played a lot cornerback in college -- are good bets.

The final decision, Williams said, will be influenced by defensive backs coach Joe Woods based on "who looks natural, who has a feel for it."

Sherels, the soft-spoken former Gophers defensive back who signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2010, mostly has been used as a return man.

But he also has been the primary backup as the slot cornerback in the Vikings' nickel defense, which they used on 53 of 64 snaps (82.8%) against the Packers on Sunday.

After replacing Winfield in the second quarter, Sherels surrendered 123 yards on six completions, including a 73-yard reception by Jordy Nelson.

"We all had a breakdown in coverage, but we got it fixed," Sherels said.

Asked to evaluate his performance as a whole, Sherels said, "I don't know. We won. That's all that matters."

Jefferson took over as the second starter in the base defense opposite Chris Cook. Neither of them have gotten many reps in the slot, nor has Robinson, the rookie third-round pick who dropped to fourth on the depth chart after Cook returned from injured reserve two weeks ago.

Winfield's right hand, which he fractured on Dec. 23 at Houston, was badly swollen after the 18 snaps he played with a small pad protecting it against Green Bay.

He didn't practice on Tuesday or Wednesday, and coach Leslie Frazier has been noncommittal about his status for the playoff game. But an NFL source said on Monday there is optimism Winfield can play with a larger soft cast, provided the swelling goes down this week.

"When I've been around the guys long enough, when they tell me something, I say, hey, I take it to the bank," Williams said. "I did that (last weekend). Ultimately, again, he couldn't make it through so the next guy was up.

"That's one thing we can't worry about. You can't worry about things you can't control. That's why we practice multiple lineups, so when one guy goes out, the next guy feels good about going in and playing winning football."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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