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Minicamp report: Blanton manages stronghold as Vikings safety

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings keep looking for a new face at strong safety, but the old one keeps showing up alongside free safety Harrison Smith — that of Robert Blanton.

Unhappy with injuries and ineffectiveness at the position a year ago, then-rookie coach Mike Zimmer brought in an old security blanket in Chris Crocker. Unfortunately, Crocker proved to be too old and had to be released before the season.

Zimmer then gave the starting job to Blanton with a less-than-glowing endorsement that essentially said the team had no one else to go with.

Blanton shook his reputation for lack of durability, playing every snap on defense into the 13th game of the season. But when an injury did sideline him temporarily, he couldn’t wrestle the job back full-time from special teamer Andrew Sendejo, which was a clear sign of the team’s discontent.

Another former Bengal was added to the mix early this offseason when Zimmer brought in Taylor Mays. But that didn’t work out either and Mays was released on the eve of this week’s minicamp.

So when camp opened, Blanton was still lining up at No. 1 strong safety, as he has throughout most of the offseason. Sendejo and second-year pro Antone Exum worked with the second unit, while undrafted rookie Anthony Harris and corner-safety hybrid Shaun Prater saw time with the third unit.

The Vikings believe Exum has the size, speed and ability to become a starter. But he has been slow to develop because he was coming off knee reconstruction surgery when he entered the NFL.

Once again, Zimmer was asked about the strong safety position. And, once again, the coach said it’s an open competition that will have to play out.

“The things that happen when they’re not playing the team they see every single day in practice, those are much better evaluations because the checks happen faster, the different types of plays happen faster,” Zimmer said. “I would not read too much into who’s where right at this particular point. Unless it’s Teddy (Bridgewater) or Adrian (Peterson).”

–No one was quite sure what to expect of fifth-round draft pick MyCole Pruitt. He was a two-time small-school All-America selection at Southern Illinois. But, well, this ain’t Southern Illinois.

The 6-foot-2, 251-pound tight end was billed as a solid blocker with versatility to play in the backfield, tight on the line or spread wide. He has a long ways to go before proving his ability can transfer to this level, but so far, so good, according to at least one important member of the team.

“He’s an athlete, I can tell you that much,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “He can catch. He can catch passes out of the backfield, catch passes from the tight end position, he can block in the running game, he can line up at wide receiver. He can probably return punts and kickoffs also. He’s an exciting player.”

–The Vikings are trying to convert not one, not two, but three offensive tackles to guard this offseason. Draft picks T.J. Clemmings (fourth round), Tyrus Thompson (sixth) and Austin Shepherd (seventh) have little to no experience inside, but the Vikings have a gaping hole at right guard. Hence, the decision to take a peek at some big tackles at the right guard spot.

Clemmings has the inside track among the rookies to compete for the starting job. But Thompson is getting more looks with the first team the past two weeks.

“On the inside, those (defenders) are right there on you already,” Thompson said. “The (defenders) are faster on the outside, but you have a little bit more space when you’re kicking off the ball instead of being flatter to keep the pocket more shallow.”


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