In the nine years in a Vikings uniform, Antoine Winfield was about as consistent producer as the franchise had on roster. Winfield is now in Seattle leaving a group of young defenders to cover the back end.
Rookie safety Harrison Smith finished second on the team in tackles with 104 and led the team with 3 interceptions, two he ran back for touchdowns. It was more than the stats though that the group that includes Smith, Chris Cook, Mistrail Raymond, Jamarca Sanford, Josh Robinson and rookie Xavier Rhodes. The group is brash and very much confident.
In his fifth season, Cook appears to have things figured out on and off the field. Although the corner spot opposite Cook appears to be open, Rhodes is expected to secure the spot with Robinson playing the nickel corner spot. The duo will give the team one of the biggest starting cornerback duos in the league. At 6'1, Rhodes has the size and strength to stay with bigger receivers including Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall whom he will see twice each during the regular season.
At safety, Smith gave the Vikings something they hadn't had roaming the defensive secondary for years. A hard hitting, ball hawking, fundamentally sound safety, Smith is set to lead the group for years. His safety mate Mistral Raymond scratched, clawed and fought for the opportunity to play football. Now he is the starting strong safety for the Vikings.
Robinson had an up and down rookie season, but with a year under his belt should slide into the nickel cornerback slot. Of his 56 tackles in 2012, 52 of them were solo, meaning that Robinson isn't afraid to stick his head into the play when it comes to defending the rush.
Sanford adds depth at safety and of all the defensive backs, offers the most vocally. His 52 solo tackles were good for fifth best on the team. In his four years with the Vikings, he has amassed 192 total tackles and six forced fumbles. At 5-10 and 200 pounds, Sanford provides a physical presence on the field.
If the Vikings are going to get back to the playoffs, the defensive backs need to be able to give the defensive front time to get to the quarterback. There is no secret how this group has been molded. Finesse doesn't exist in the vocabulary.
A big storyline in camp will be the play of the defensive backs and their ability to be physical with opposing receivers.