Vikings’ Harrison Smith Successor Emerges, Puts Lewis Cine on Notice

Lewis Cine, Vikings

Getty Safety Lewis Cine of the Minnesota Vikings runs on the field during an NFL preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers in August 2022.

Once heralded as the Minnesota Vikings‘ successor to Harrison Smith, former first-round pick Lewis Cine is losing ground to rising safety Theo Jackson.

Jackson, coming off a breakthrough season where he logged a career-high 21 tackles and his first interception, has reasserted himself in organized team activities (OTAs).

The Athletic’s Alec Lewis noted Jackson as one of his favorite players to watch this spring and penned him as a potential replacement for Smith when the future Hall of Famer retires.

“Jackson is only 25. The Tennessee Titans drafted him in the sixth round, waived him and wanted to keep him, but the Vikings scooped him up. He is clearly the No. 4 safety on the depth chart and might be a future option post-Harrison Smith,” Lewis wrote in a May 24 mailbag segment.

The Vikings’ safety room is loaded with talent. Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus and Smith all logged over 1,000 snaps last season as defensive coordinator Brian Flores has found ways to get his best players on the field.

Jackson was next up with 126 defensive snaps played across 15 games. Meanwhile, Cine played just eight snaps in one game last season and was a healthy scratch from the gameday roster several times late in the 2023 season.

Lewis predicted Cine would not make the initial 53-man roster come the end of training camp with second-year defensive back Jay Ward beating him out for the fifth and final spot.

“This is probably the most trusted position group on the roster. Smith, Bynum, Metellus, Jackson and Ward are essentially shoo-ins,” Lewis wrote. “Cine’s overall explosiveness and acclimation to Flores’ defense will dictate whether or not he makes the team, but I’d be surprised if he beat out any of the other five.”

Vikings’ Theo Jackson Shows Explosiveness, Versatility and Insticts

Theo Jackson

GettyVikings safety Theo Jackson

Playing in the “Star” hybrid safety role in college, Jackson was tasked as a do-it-all safety his senior year at Tennessee. He had a breakout performance in 2021, tallying 78 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 11 passes defended and returned an interception for a touchdown at Tennessee.

You’re really a safety, corner and a linebacker in that scheme,” Jackson said in an interview during the 2022 preseason. “You got to be tough. You got to be smart and fast. You got to be a good ball player.”

Sound familiar?

“I’m big on versatility. Guys being able to play multiple spots,” Flores said during his introductory news conference in 2023. “In order to do that, we’ve got to get them coached up to play those multiple spots. We’ll cast a wide net to see what we do best, and we’ll try to highlight the things our players do well.”

It’s no surprise Jackson has found a role under Flores. He played a significant share of his snaps at slot cornerback, free safety and box safety. He’s shown smart instincts that he’s paired with his explosiveness (Jackson posted a 4.46 40-time and 1.54 10-yard split at his pro day).

Lewis Cine’s Last Chance, Former Vikings LB Senses Emotional Divide With Locker Room

Lewis Cine

GettyVikings safety lewis Cine

With Jackson fitting the mold of what the Vikings hoped for out of Cine, it looks like it may be the former Georgia star’s last chance at proving his worth to the organization.

While the questions continue to mount over why Cine hasn’t seen the field, former Vikings linebacker and KFAN sideline reporter Ben Leber offered what he’s observed since Cine came back from a devastating leg injury his rookie year during a January 11 appearance on “The Power Trip” morning show.

From Leber:

I don’t know the inner workings of what’s going on… but here’s what I do observe. I’m questioning whether or not Lewis Cine is going to be on this team very long or in the NFL very long. When I watch him on the sidelines, whether he is dressed or not dressed, there is very little interaction that he has with his teammates… I see a guy that looks defeated. I don’t know why. I don’t know what’s going on in his personal life I don’t know what’s going on with his leg. You’ve seen guys come back from broken bones all the time. I don’t know the severity of how much his bone was broken… it was a significant injury, we have to give him that grace.

But there seems to be something emotionally detached that I’ve witnessed and observed… throughout the entirety that he’s been here. I give him as much grace as anybody coming off an injury. It is a depressing time to be injured to not connect with your team if you’ve played the game you’ve all been there but in this year where he’s been “healthy,” he’s been able to play in games where he’s been a healthy scratch, there’s just something not clicking.

Leber added in a separate podcast appearance that Cine had struggled to pick up Flores’ playbook.

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