Vikings’ Mike Zimmer Gets Brutally Honest on Starting CB Cam Dantzler

Cameron Dantzler

Getty The San Francisco 49ers inquired about a trade for Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler.

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cam Dantzler has been hitting the weight room and cleaning his plate at the dinner table in an effort to shed an aspect of his nickname: “The Needle.”

Dantzler, who’s always been a tall, slender player, was known for delivering deceptively piercing hits in high school — where he first was given the moniker.

But in his first year in the NFL, Dantzler, standing 6-foot-2, 188 pounds, found himself taking more hits on a more physical playing field. He was knocked out in Week 8 against the Green Bay Packers after a scary hit and missed five games due to injured ribs and an injured hamstring last season.

Dantzler is noticeably bigger entering Vikings training camp. However, he may not quite be up to the size coach Mike Zimmer wants him at.

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 ‘He’s Gotta Stay the Heck Out There’

In a press conference entering the second day of training camp on Thursday, Zimmer acknowledged Dantzler’s gains this offseason but added that he still needs to get bigger.

“He’s a little bit bigger. You know, he’s still got to get in the weight room and things like that. He came off the field way too much last year,” Zimmer said. “So, you know, if he gets a couple hits on him, he’s gotta stay the heck out there and go compete.”

When Dantzler was on the field, he proved to be not only one of the best rookie corners last year but one of the best corners, period. He pieced together a string of seven games where he was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1-graded cornerback, allowing a 31.1 quarterback rating when targeted.

If a quarterback spiked the ball every play, they would produce a quarterback rating of 39.6 — higher than if they threw the ball Dantzler’s way during that stretch. That’s how good he was once he got his feet under him.

Pro Football Focus named Dantzler a breakout candidate for the 2021 season and should benefit from a revamped defensive line that will pressure quarterbacks this season.

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Zimmer Hints at Changes in Cornerbacks Room

Last season, Minnesota was decimated by injuries that cornerback that thrust several players into more playing time than Zimmer would have liked.

But with the additions of Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, and Bashaud Breeland, the Vikings have veteran corners that they can rely on once again.

Whether Dantzler will retain his role as a starting cornerback remains to be seen. At the time of his signing, Breeland’s agent said Breeland expects to compete for a starting role.

Zimmer has already hinted that cornerbacks further down the depth chart like Kris Boyd and Harrison Hand will be leaned on to help improve special teams.

“I guess, you know, the biggest thing, and I’m not just talking about Dantzler specifically, but some of those guys got a chance to play last year. Adding some of these other guys, I feel like the depth should really help us on special teams,” Zimmer said. “Some of these guys that played last year won’t be — knocks on (wood) podium — probably won’t be playing first and second down, but they should be playing a lot on special teams.”

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