Notebook: Vikings see Robert Blanton as 'dual-purpose guy' at safety
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At some point this season, the Minnesota Vikings could be starting two rookie safeties from Notre Dame.
It might require injuries and definitely would require rapid progress by Robert Blanton, the long-levered cornerback the Vikings drafted two days and four rounds after trading up to select his college teammate, Harrison Smith, at No. 29 overall.
But the Vikings believe they can take advantage of Blanton's toughness and tackling ability by moving him to safety, where his questionable speed won't be so easily exposed by NFL receivers.
Coach Leslie Frazier told 1500 ESPN on Sunday that Blanton "showed some attributes that makes us believe he can be one of those hybrid-type safety/corners who can match up on tight ends, can actually play in the middle of the field or play off the hash."
The Vikings tried a similar conversion last year with sixth-round draft pick Mistral Raymond, who mostly played cornerback as a senior at South Florida in 2010 but started five games at free safety as an NFL rookie.
Blanton, who was the Vikings' lone fifth-round pick (139th overall), is more thickly built than Raymond at a shade under 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds. He played in 50 games with 26 starts over four seasons with the Irish and fits the press-zone mold the Vikings look for in their cornerbacks.
But general manager Rick Spielman acknowledged the team had concerns about Blanton's speed -- his electronic times in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine were 4.75 and 4.70 seconds -- which no doubt is part of the reason the Vikings will try him at safety first.
"We think we got a dual-purpose guy who will add a lot of value to our team both on special teams and in the defensive backfield," Frazier said.
Who are the starters?
According to Frazier, Smith will enter offseason workouts as the starting free safety and Jamarca Sanford remains the strong safety. That's probably a nod to Sanford's role last season as much as anything -- he's not expected to keep the starting job in 2012.
The other safety who started last season, Husain Abdullah, remains unsigned and might not be a starter even if he does return. The Vikings remain high on Raymond, who shied from contact at times as a rookie and needs to put more muscle on his 6-1, 194-pound frame in the offseason.
"That first year was more of a learning experience," defensive backs coach Joe Woods said. "Really happy that we got (Raymond) in towards the end of the season. He gained some valuable experience. But he's fine. He's getting bigger. He's working in the weight room, but he's an extremely smart guy and he can't wait for the challenge."
One last visit
When did the Vikings finalize their decision to use their top draft pick on Matt Kalil?
Frazier said it was after offensive line coach Jeff Davidson quietly went to Southern California for a private workout with the standout left tackle.
"We had a good idea, after watching tape and comparing him with some of the other candidates for that number three spot," Frazier said. "But when Jeff went out and worked him out and spent time with him, he came back and really was sold on a lot of different attributes that Matt offered.
"That kind of solidified in all of our minds that this is truly the guy for what we were trying to get accomplished. From that point on, it was just a matter of trying to position things to see if we could get a little bit more out of that pick than what was currently on the table."
The Vikings ended up trading down one spot with Cleveland, which gave up fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks to move into the No. 3 slot and tackle Alabama halfback Trent Richardson.
Once Tampa Bay turned down Spielman's offer to move up to No. 4, the Vikings stood pat and drafted Kalil, whom Frazier has already penciled in as the starting left tackle in Week 1.
"There are going to be some things that we have to adjust as time goes on," Frazier said. "But we do believe that he'll be able to play well in that very first game and just continue to improve along the way. Some of the things that he'll have to work on are just things that every professional that comes out of college has to work on, which is get a little bit stronger, understanding and adjusting to the speed of the game."
Disappointed in King
Frazier said the Vikings were still in the process of gathering information on backup halfback Caleb King's arrest following an incident that left a man in the hospital with fractured skull and possible brain damage.
King remained in Anoka County Jail late Sunday night while awaiting a hearing on suspicion of third-degree assault.
"It's disappointing for sure," Frazier said. "The way our guys came in the building last week when we started the offseason, the attendance that we had and the enthusiasm. Now everybody's on a high note, but then you get that news in the midst of the draft -- it's disappointing.
"As we get more information regarding the situation, we'll deal with it accordingly. But yeah, without question, it's extremely disappointing."