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Updated: October 31st, 2011 5:37pm
Notebook: Cornerback Cedric Griffin in jeopardy of losing starting job

Notebook: Cornerback Cedric Griffin in jeopardy of losing starting job

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Cedric Griffin's time as the Minnesota Vikings starting right cornerback could be coming to an end.

Leslie Frazier said Monday that among the issues that will be discussed during the Vikings' bye this week will be whether Asher Allen should take over the starting role. The Vikings will return from their off week next Monday. Whether Griffin is benched will depend in part on if Antoine Winfield is ready to return after a four-game absence caused by a neck injury.

"We're going to talk about (the change) as we evaluate our team and our defense during this bye week," Frazier said. "What's the best thing to do? Who the best 11 for us are going forward. ...

"We'll talk about everything. We're going to try to evaluate everything we're doing. Just peel back the onion and take a real hard look at our team in every phase."

It became clear Sunday that the Vikings are concerned about Griffin's level of play. The Vikings made the unusual move, at least for them, of assigning Allen to cover Carolina's top wide receiver, Steve Smith, no matter where he lined up on the field. Allen technically started in place of Winfield for the second game in a row.

If both Winfield and Griffin were healthy, or if Chris Cook had been available, Allen's role would have been as the cornerback in the nickel package.

Trusting Allen to follow Smith all over the field speaks volumes about Griffin's struggles.

Griffin, in his sixth season, has been victimized far too many times by opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers who long ago figured out they could go after a guy trying to return from having both of his anterior cruciate ligaments repaired over the past two years.

"You're right, that's not a custom of ours to mirror a receiver, but for where we are with our personnel in the secondary, we just felt like that gave us the best chance to be successful on Sunday," Frazier said. "We just didn't feel good about trying to do it any other way. So we did something that we wouldn't normally do, and I think it paid dividends for us."

Smith caught a game-high seven passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, but was held to one reception for 5 yards in the final quarter in the Vikings' 24-21 victory over the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

Allen, a third-round pick in 2009, said he found out late last week that he would be shadowing Smith. The Vikings tried the same tactic in 2005 when then-coach Mike Tice decided to assign Fred Smoot to cover Smith in Carolina.

That move backfired in a big way as Smith caught 11 passes for 201 yards with a touchdown.

"It doesn't necessarily make you the top corner," Allen said when asked about the fact that clearly he was viewed as the Vikings' No. 1 corner on Sunday. "It's just the coaches felt like it was the best thing for us to do.

"Me and Ced and Antoine and everybody on the team, that's what we're always prepared to do, whether that be inside or outside, every week, there's a different challenge. That was my challenge this week, so I just had to go out there and play."

Allen, who was sidelined for a portion of training camp and the first game of the season because of a foot injury, almost certainly wouldn't be assigned to Green Bay's top receiver, Greg Jennings, if he does replace Griffin as the starter on Nov. 14 when the Vikings play at Lambeau Field.

That's because Winfield's return means both corners likely would be trusted in coverage on their respective sides of the field.

Green Bay also uses so many multiple receiver looks that Griffin still might see extensive playing time in the nickel defense.

That might be different if Chris Cook were playing, but there's no indication that he will be back from suspension by that point. In fact, Frazier said there would be a discussion about Cook's future on Monday.

Cook was charged with felony domestic assault after police say he choked a woman in his Eden Prairie home in the early hours on Oct. 22.

Return nears

Winfield had expressed hope last week that he would play against the Panthers, but Frazier made it clear last Thursday that he wasn't optimistic that the veteran would be available.

On Monday, Winfield said repeatedly that he will return from his neck injury on Nov. 14. The Vikings have long called the injury, suffered on Oct. 2 at Kansas City, a neck strain.

Winfield said last week it was more severe than that but refused to go into detail. Monday, he seemed to put it on the team that more information hadn't been disclosed.

"That's a good question," he said when asked why there is so much mystery surrounding the actual injury. "We'll just have to go with what the coaches say. It's a strain."

Frazier said Winfield "was very close," to playing at Carolina. "He went through some contact drills at the end of the week, but he wasn't quite confident to go out there and go full contact," Frazier said. "But all indications are that we should get him back for our next ballgame."

Winfield will spend the bye week at Winter Park getting treatment.

Despite the lengthy absence, Winfield expects his return to go without any trouble. "It's like riding a bike," he said. "I've been doing this for a long time. Maybe conditioning wise, I haven't been running around like the others guys, but I'll be good when I get out there."

Rotation to continue

Tyrell Johnson was in the game for a fatigued Jamarca Sanford at strong safety in the fourth quarter Sunday when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton completed a 44-yard pass to Brandon LaFell on Carolina's final drive.

That put the ball at the Vikings 21-yard line with the Panthers down by three. Carolina had a chance to tie the score but Olindo Mare missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt with under a minute left.

Despite Johnson's continued issues, Frazier doesn't plan to end a safety rotation that has seen Johnson and Sanford both get time.

"We still want to keep the rotation going for now, with Jamarca Sanford along with Tyrell Johnson," Frazier said. "Jamarca was a little bit fatigued (Sunday). He plays on a lot of special teams and struggled a little bit in some areas. But I think we still want to keep that rotation going. That's something we'll also talk about during this week."

Sanford returned after missing the Vikings' loss on Oct. 23 to the Packers because of a concussion. Johnson made his first start of the season in that game.

Frazier indicated that rookie Mistral Raymond also could eventually find himself in the mix at safety.

"We have talked about Mistral, he's done a good job on special teams the weeks that he's been up," Frazier said. "He did a good job (Sunday). We're going to discuss whether or not we're going to try to work him in on defense."

Raymond has been active the past two weeks and played on special teams.

Passing to Peterson

Running back Adrian Peterson made a rare impact in the passing game Sunday, finishing with five receptions for a career-high 76 yards and a touchdown. It was only his third receiving touchdown in five seasons.

Asked about Peterson's performance in this area, Frazier explained that the Vikings simply took what the Panthers gave them.

"There are not a lot of times over the course of this year that we've gotten a lot of zone coverage," Frazier said. "If it is, maybe it's some 3 deep, but we get a lot of man. And when we do get zone, it is more cover 3, where there's always somebody in the box because of Adrian.

"Yesterday, we got some 2 high, and that was unusual for us. Christian (Ponder) did a great job of taking what the defense gave him in that situation. We took full advantage. So, as we evolve as an offense, it will be big for us if we start getting more 2-high safeties and hopefully we'll be able to help Adrian achieve his goal of 2,000 yards rushing if we start getting a lot of 2-high safeties."

That doesn't sound like a promise that Peterson is sure to get more passes thrown his way.

Ponder, the Vikings' rookie quarterback, said the Panthers defense was leaving Peterson wide open when they dropped into their zones and admitted he could have directed a few more passes toward the Pro Bowl running back.

Ponder said the Vikings do call plays to get Peterson matched up one-on-one with a linebacker in certain passing situations.

"A lot of times it comes with if you're playing a man-to-man defense," Ponder said. "Depends on the scheme you're facing."

Bye week plans

Ponder will enjoy his first NFL bye week by spending time on a hunting trip in South Dakota with teammates Chad Greenway, John Sullivan and Cullen Loeffler. Greenway is from Mount Vernon, S.D.

Other Vikings also made plans as they won't be required to return to work until next Monday.
Meanwhile, the coaching staff will remain at Winter Park doing self-scouting analysis through Thursday morning before they take the weekend off.

"We'll go through the things we need to go through to go back and look at our football team and try to figure out some things to help us get better," Frazier said.

The timing of the bye, at the halfway point of the Vikings schedule, pleases Frazier, as does the opportunity to get players a week off so many of them can get healthy.

As for the importance of entering the bye off only their second victory of the season, Frazier said:

"(It's) so, so important. If we want to have any chance of making the games in December meaningful, this win going into the bye was extremely, extremely important. We talked about that during the week. How important this win was."

Not even that 44-yard completion to LaFell impacted Frazier's mood.

"I told our coaches this morning, 'Nothing is gnawing at me after a win,'" Frazier said "'We won the game. We're going into the bye. Vikings win. That's all I'm concerned about. We'll fix all that other stuff during this bye week.' No, it did not gnaw at me. We walked off the field with a win."

Quick hits

• Peterson was on the injury report last week because of a twisted ankle and after accumulating 162 total yards it was clear the ankle was still troubling him as he hobbled through the locker room on Monday. Peterson declined an interview request before departing.

• Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said he is feeling going into the bye but was wearing a wrap on his right hand.

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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