In a similar vein to how fans felt when Mike Zimmer took over for Leslie Frazier, the excitement is palpable for the beginning of the Kevin O’Connell era.
While the team prepares for the season, we are doing the same at the Vikings Wire. We will be producing previews breaking down both each position and the team as a whole.
Today, we continue with our preview series by talking about the defensive line.
Running Back Preview
Wide Receiver preview
Tight End Preview
Offensive Tackle Preview
Defensive Line Preview
Outside Linebacker/Edge Preview
Middle Linebacker Preview
Starter: Harrison Smith
Jun 8, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) looks on during mandatory mini camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Smith is slowly making his case for being the best safety in Minnesota Vikings history.
Yes, he has some big-time competition in both Paul Krause and Joey Browner, but the consistency and explosiveness that Smith has is nearly unmatched in the league today.
After signing a fiv-year/$50 million contract extension after his rookie deal, Smith signed a four-year/$64 million extension last training camp. That deal is more so to reward him for what he’s done previously. Going into his age 33 season, Smith hasn’t seen an athletic decline yet but that day is coming sooner rather than later.
The interesting element with Smith is that he is going into a new defense for the first time in eight years. One of Smith’s best traits is being a riverboat gambler. He was so comfortable with the defense he played in and would take chances going out of position because he knew what was coming. How comfortable will he feel doing that this year in a new defense? That will be the biggest thing to look forward to this year.
Starter: Camryn Bynum
Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (43) celebrates after sacking Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
A fourth-round pick in 2021, Bynum played cornerback at Cal but didn’t have the athleticism to play on the outside. When the Vikings selected him, they had the plan to move him to safety to play opposite Smith.
In his limited playing time, Bynum showed that he can be a really good player in the NFL. He only played in 211 snaps last season but graded favorably and looked like a starter this season. PFF gave him a grade of 78.3 which was even higher in run defense and tackling. His best game was against Baltimore where he had 11 tackles and an interception and graded out at a 90.0. Oh, the Vikings didn’t have Harrison Smith that day due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Going into this season, Bynum will be the starter but will have rookie first-round pick Lewis Cine breathing down his neck. The Vikings will also be using some three safety packages that will likely see Bynum shift down into the slot, in which he is more than capable.
Backup: Lewis Cine
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) warms up before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Cine is an athletic freak.
Selected as the third safety in the draft one pick behind Michigan’s Daxton Hill, Cine came at a value. He is the most athletic of the three safeties taken in round one and proved it at Georgia. His first step is incredibly explosive and has the instincts to make dynamic plays.
During the preseason, Cine was just a half step too slow, including this almost breakup against the San Francisco 49ers.
If he can get that cleaned up just a bit, he will be a destructive force on the back end in a myriad of ways.
The early expectations for Cine should be a rotational player and used in three safety sub-packages. By next year, he should be a starter.
Backup: Josh Metellus
Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) celebrates with teammates after recovering a fumbled punt return by Chicago Bears’ Dwayne Harris during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
After a heavy push by Myles Dorn in the preseason, Metellus made the team by a hair. Why did he make it over Dorn? He’s the Vikings special teams ace.
A really good special teams player on all four units, Metellus sees the field really well and makes open field tackles with ease.
Metellus is also a capable safety. While he won’t give you anything special, he knows how to make solid plays and won’t get run over in the open field. If he has to start games though, opposing offenses will take advantage of him.
Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire