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Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson, left, is battling newly signed sixth-year veteran Captain Munnerlyn (not pictured) for a starting position this season. USA Today Sports

Vikings secondary to face early tests

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MANKATO, Minn. – The Murderer’s Row of quarterbacks the Vikings will face in the first month of the regular season was read to coach Mike Zimmer.

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Tom Brady. Drew Brees. Aaron Rodgers.

“You forgot Matt Ryan and those two receivers they got,” said Zimmer, referring to the Atlanta quarterback and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.

You better believe Zimmer knows exactly who Minnesota will run into when the games start to count. The Vikings had one of the NFL’s worst secondaries last season, and it will be tested often early in Zimmer’s first season.

Adding to any possible concern is a defensive backfield that has been banged up. Six significant secondary players did not play because of injury or were hurt in last week’s preseason opener against Oakland, though all are expected to be available except safety Robert Blanton for Saturday’s game against Arizona at TCF Bank Stadium.

“That stretch is a tough stretch,” Zimmer said of the Vikings’ early-season schedule. “But it is what it is. They aren’t going to cancel the games. Neither am I.”

After the Sept. 7 opener at St. Louis, the Vikings play host to Brady and New England on Sept. 14, travel to play Brees and New Orleans on Sept. 21, play host to Ryan and the Falcons on Sept. 28, and visit Rodgers and Green Bay on Oct. 2. Brady, Brees and Rodgers are all bound for the hall of fame, and Ryan has made two Pro Bowls this decade.

“I think it’s an opportunity to really showcase what you can do against elite quarterbacks,” Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson said.

Last year, though, Minnesota defensive backs got toasted by quarterbacks who are far from elite. Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer, for one, threw for 321 yards and rolled up 31 points against them.

And Zimmer got to see firsthand the Vikings’ troubles. As Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, he watched Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton complete 27 of 38 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-14 win over Minnesota.

“I am very careful about judging people on prior (performances) because I don’t know what they are being told, I don’t know what they are being taught,” Zimmer said about having watched film of the Vikings’ 2013 secondary.

Regardless, it didn’t look good. The Vikings were 31st in the NFL in passing yards allowed at 287.2 per game.

“That was an issue,” Robinson acknowledge. “You definitely can’t have that in the NFL. You definitely got to improve, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The Vikings had a very young secondary last season. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was a rookie, and Robinson and free safety Harrison Smith both were in their second year.

Those guys are a year older, and some veteran help has arrived. The Vikings signed sixth-year cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who was much sought after in free agency, and last week they added safety Chris Crocker, 34, a 12-year veteran.

“(Crocker) is a veteran that also can help mentor these younger guys,” said Munnerlyn, 26. “I thought I was going to be the oldest guy in the secondary, but now we got another guy that can bring some knowledge to the safety position.”

On paper, the Vikings are looking better in the defensive backfield. A problem during training camp has been getting guys on the field.

Munnerlyn, battling Robinson for a starting job, missed the first week with a strained hamstring.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service

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