Jerry Gray advises DBs to slow down, don't always go for 'knockout'
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Jamarca Sanford watched as Reggie Bush turned a three-yard screen catch into a 77-yard touchdown in the Minnesota Vikings' loss in last year's season opener against Detroit.
Sanford wasn't the only culprit on the play -- or on the Vikings defense last season -- but that play is an example of what first-year defensive backs coach Jerry Gray hopes to change in the Vikings' secondary this season.
"It's not always a knockout shot," Gray said. "A tackle is a tackle in this league, just get the guy down. Those are the little things you want them to understand. It's not so much how I tackle them, but how I get them down."
The Vikings missed 143 tackles last season, with 71 coming from defensive backs, per ProFootballFocus.com. Safeties Sanford and Andrew Sendejo combined for 22 of the secondary's mishaps.
Sendejo (back) will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list after he had surgery this offseason, but Sanford has taken reps with the first-team defense alongside Harrison Smith.
Sanford has started 41 games for Minnesota since 2011, but he's under pressure to keep his starting job after he was relegated to a rotational role with Sendejo last season before Smith hit IR.
"That's one thing he's coaching," Sanford said after Friday's morning walkthrough. "Going back and looking at film from last year, we were trying to blow everybody up. A lot of missed tackles. It's not always about the biggest hit, there's a time and place where you'll get a big shot."
The Vikings' tackling issues extended to nearly every position last season, but it's ever-important for the safety position after Minnesota gave up a franchise-record 37 touchdown passes last season.
"That's the thing you have to get safeties to understand," Gray said. "You're the last line of defense as a secondary."
With a bevy of offensive weapons in NFC North opponents, as well as facing quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees this season -- first-year head coach Mike Zimmer wants to make fundamental tackling a point of emphasis for the entire defense.
"You don't just run by the guy," Zimmer said. "Because if you're running by him full speed and he's running full speed, you're not going to touch the guy. You've got to come under control, get in position, also knowing where your help is going to be."
Nine other defenders will rely on Smith and possibly Sanford for that help.
"We try to blow somebody up and we miss," Sanford said. "Nobody's behind us and that's a touchdown."