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Updated: August 28th, 2011 1:17am
Lack of depth at cornerback could become an issue for Vikings

Lack of depth at cornerback could become an issue for Vikings

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Leslie Frazier employed Antione Winfield and Cedric Griffin as his starting cornerbacks for Saturday night's preseason game against Dallas at the Metrodome and brought in Chris Cook in nickel situations.

The Minnesota Vikings coach liked what he saw.

"What I was encouraged by was when Chris was out there, when Cedric was out there, when 'Toine was out there, we held our own," Frazier said following a 23-17 loss. "That is really encouraging for our defense and for our team, because we're going to need those three guys to really play at a high level in order for our defense to play well. When they were there, I thought we held them in check."

But there were at least two reminders that keeping all three on the field for an entire 16-game season is going to be a challenge.

The first occured when the 34-year-old Winfield departed in the first quarter after jamming his shoulder. The other came when Cook was seen on the sideline during the first half with a bag of ice attached to his left hamstring. Frazier said both would be fine.

Griffin avoided the injury bug -- the guy deserves a break after having reconstructive knee surgeries each of the past two years to repair torn ACLs -- but he did not avoid being a target of Tony Romo.

The Cowboys quarterback unofficially threw toward Griffin's side eight times in the opening half with six of those passes ending up as completions for 57 yards.

It was a reminder of the fact that every team is going to test Griffin early in the season to see if he has the mobility to play on two repaired knees.

Griffin is sure to gain confidence, as long as he can remain healthy, but that's the problem with the Vikings' corner situation. It's paper thin and if any of the three are lost there could be trouble.

Keep in mind that the Vikings will end up playing in the nickel about 50 percent of the snaps this season, so having three (not two) healthy and effective corners is a must.

"You've got to have depth in our league," Frazier said. "You'd like to have four guys, maybe five guys that, if something happens, that fourth guy can come in and give you what you need without a big drop-off. That's what we've got to find, that fourth and fifth corner."

But do the Vikings have that? The subject is open for debate.

Asher Allen, who sat out Saturday because of a toe injury, was forced into service last season and looked overmatched. Allen is 5-foot-9, 194 pounds and can struggle against bigger receivers.

Former Gopher Marcus Sherels has impressed in training camp and the preseason and could be a candidate to play inside regularly in the nickel, if that becomes necessary. But that might be asking too much of the 5-10, 175-pound Sherels.

The same would go for rookie Brandon Burton, a fifth-round pick in April. Like any rookie, Burton has been up-and-down with his play in training camp and the preseason and ideally would get through waivers and spend a year learning on the practice squad.

Cook, a second-round pick in 2010 by the Vikings, is coming off a rookie season in which he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair meniscus tears in both of his knees.

He still doesn't appear to play with complete confidence at all times -- he was called for a pass interference penalty Saturday in the first quarter when he grabbed Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant by the hips and spun him -- but feels he has come a long way in that area.

"(My confidence is) definitely higher than it was during (last) season," he said. "I was a little banged up and didn't really know the game as well. I put a lot more study time into it now and am just more mature. I just try to go out and have fun."

Cook, who does have good size at 6-foot-2 but needs to embrace the physical side of the game more, said part of that maturity involves having learned how to take care of himself.

"This business is all about your body and what you can do with your body and how you can use your body," he said. "I take care of my body way better than I did last year. More cold tub, more stretching, more massaging, everything."

Cook didn't appear to have any trouble with the Vikings' decision to pull him from Saturday's game in what was termed a precautionary move. He pointed out that the Vikings regular-season opener on Sept. 11 against the Chargers is quickly approaching and that is when it will be important for him to be at 100 percent and play an entire game.

"They didn't want me to pull it in the preseason so (they) just sat me down," he said.

That was a wise decision.

But the real trick for the Vikings will be keeping their trio of corners healthy for the four months of football that will ensue after that game in San Diego.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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