Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell Turns Heads With Cryptic Comment on Benching Starter

Cam Dantzler

Getty Cameron Dantzler was benched in the second half of the Vikings' 24-7 loss to the Eagles on September 19, 2022.

A quiet Minnesota Vikings storyline that developed amid a demoralizing 24-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football…

Where did Cameron Dantzler go?

The third-year starting cornerback looked stalwart early, making a pair of tackles in the flats on a second-quarter series and later breaking up a pass to force the Eagles to punt.

However, Dantzler went missing from the field in the second half. He was replaced by fourth-round rookie Akayleb Evans.

Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell addressed Evans replacing Dantzler, but largely side-stepped the concern surrounding Dantzler.

Kevin O’Connell Silent on Reason for Replacing Dantzler

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert reported on September 20 that O’Connell said he merely wanted to get Evans some playing time. However, Seifert, reading through the lines wasn’t sold on O’Connell’s answer.

“O’Connell downplayed rookie CB Akayleb Evans replacing starter Cameron Dantzler. He said Dantzler is still a starter but added: ‘We had talked about maybe getting Akayleb some time here and there,’ ” Seifert tweeted. “An interesting thing to keep an eye on. The game wasn’t THAT out of hand.”

While Dantzler played the first half that saw the Eagles build a 24-7 lead, neither team scored at all in the second half, leaving plenty of opportunities to close the distance. Seifert added that Dantzler was responsible for blown coverage on Jalen Hurts‘ 53-yard touchdown connection to Quez Watkins with safety Cam Bynum responsible for picking up an intermediate route.

Here’s a closer look at the blown coverage, which was largely a miscommunication in the new system.

Evans ended the game with 21 defensive snaps that all came in the second half compared to Dantzler’s 52 defensive snaps.

Kevin O’Connell Protecting Cam Dantzler?

We’ve seen it before with Dantzler.

After an impressive rookie season where he was playing at a Pro Bowl level for the final stretch of the schedule, Dantzler landed in Mike Zimmer’s dog house in 2021. The Vikings signed several veteran corners and relegated Dantzler to rotational and special teams roles. Zimmer issued Dantzler an ultimatum, saying “If you’re a backup player, you’ve gotta play special teams” in a September 2021 press conference.

He took some growing pains in stride, despite venting his frustration through cryptic social media posts.

But after being benched twice in the first three weeks to Bashaud Breeland, who was the league’s worst-graded corner by Pro Football Focus for much of the 2021 season, Dantzler had had enough.

He aired his grievances on social media, tweeting, “I’m tired of biting my tongue” after not playing against the Seattle Seahawks and watching Breeland allowed nine receptions on nine targets for 102 yards and a touchdown. It proved to be a canary for the outpour of issues inside the building that came to light after Zimmer was fired.

Dantzler has grown since then, saying being benched was “quite a surprise, but I feel like that humbled me and made me hungry” last season.

O’Connell side-stepping any public admission that Dantzler was at fault on Monday comes in the wake of the third-year corner taking ownership of his starting role and the Vikings coach likely accepting there will be learning lessons under a new system for the defense.

However, how long of a leash Dantzler may have on his starting role remains to be seen, especially with second-round corner Andrew Booth Jr. entering the fold as well this season.

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