‘Nobody Knows the Inside Story:’ Vikings Starter Breaks Silence on Comeback Season

Cam Dantzler

Getty Cameron Dantzler broke his silence on a rollercoaster second season under Mike Zimmer and the changes that have helped him realize a comeback year.

No player in the Minnesota Vikings locker room may have had as tumultuous of a time the past two years as cornerback Cameron Dantzler.

The 2020 third-round pick had his slip-ups as a starter his rookie year, but late in the season, no cornerback was playing better than the Mississippi State product. He finished as the top-graded rookie corner in 2020 with a 70.9 Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade and, through a six-game stretch to close the season, posted a 31.1 quarterback rating allowed and a league-best 88.0 PFF grade.

Dantzler was poised for a breakout year the following season before things took a bizarre turn.

He was benched in two of the Vikings’ first three games, playing understudy to free-agent signing Bashaud Breeland. The narrative was that Dantzler simply lost his starting job to the incoming veteran.

However, there was much more happening behind the scenes that has been discovered in the aftermath of the Mike Zimmer ousting.

Amid a culture change that has Minnesota 5-1 coming out of the bye week, Dantzler spoke candidly about the past two years as the third-year corner is undergoing a renaissance season.

Cameron Dantzler Says the Zimmer Regime ‘Threw Him to the Side’

Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings

GettyCameron Dantzler said Mike Zimmer pushed him to the side after he suffered an unreported injury in training camp.

In an exclusive interview with Go Long TD’s Tyler Dunne, Dantzler detailed how the team under Kevin O’Connell is succeeding by playing more freely.

Dantzler back in his starting role has 34 tackles, four pass breakups and a clutch fumble recovery against the Chicago Bears. He’s posted the highest PFF coverage grade (70.6) of his career, simply by being himself after a year where he felt like a “robot.”

“I got my swagger back. They have faith in me with what I can do and they make me play freely and be me,” Dantzler told Dunne before describing last season. “Nobody knows the inside story. There was more to it with me and Coach last year. Outside looking in, you really don’t know as much. There was a lot going on last year. It was a roller-coaster for me.”

In the 2021 offseason, Dantzler “popped his quad,” suffering a Grade 2 tear and tried to play through it during OTAs in June, Dunne said. The Zimmer regime was notorious for mismanaging injuries while jobs were on the line, and Dantzler didn’t want to lose his place. But after his quad popped again, the Vikings signed Breeland just two days later.

Breeland was coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances with the Kansas City Chiefs and was an enticing veteran addition that soon spoiled. Breeland was PFF’s worst-graded cornerback for most of the season before he got in a fight at practice in December and was released.

“They brought Breeland in and I feel like they just threw me to the side,” Dantzler said. “I was like, ‘Damn. Am I good enough?’ I was questioning myself. Young guy. Second year. Just coming off a… I wouldn’t say ‘great’ rookie year. But toward the end, I improved a lot. I had that confidence and swagger into Year 2. And then when I got hurt, it was, ‘OK, we don’t need him anymore. Let’s throw him to the side.’ I felt abandoned.

“Everybody tried to make it seem like I was out-battled. Breeland is a great player. But I don’t feel I was out-battled. My spot was given away before it was even fought for. It was like, ‘OK. He’s going to be the starter. He’s going to be our guy.’ They just threw me to the side.”

Working with Zimmer every day at the head coach’s preferred position group, Dantzler felt a coldness come over his former head coach.

From Dunne:

He can remember straight-up asking Zimmer, “Coach, you don’t mess with me anymore because I’m injured.”

The head coach’s response? Per Dantzler? “I don’t talk to guys who are hurt.”

“I’m like, ‘Whoa. OK.’ Those words came out of his mouth,” Dantzler says. “I’m an outgoing person. People like my personality. I bring joy to the room. I don’t know. He’s an old school type of guy. He wasn’t feeling it.”

Cameron Dantzler Says Kevin O’Connell is Letting Him Play Free

Cameron Dantzler

GettyCameron Dantzler says he’s playing more freely under first-year coach Kevin O’Connell.

Speaking on his time playing under Zimmer, Dantzler admitted he was afraid to make any mistake, stepping on eggshells at a position that is entirely instinctual.

He’s finding that instinct again under O’Connell.

“Because you know yourself,” he told Dunne. “You know how you play. Just go out there and show it. I feel like I don’t have to be a robot anymore. My first two years? I had butterflies a lot. I felt like, ‘If I mess up, I might get taken out.’ I was a robot. Now, I’m free. ‘KO’ let me be free. I can go out there with confidence and swagger like, ‘Hey, ain’t nobody catching anything on me today.’ That’s how I feel.”

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