EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Leslie Frazier has always been able to count on one player in his secondary since he became the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator in 2007.
Antoine Winfield was the one constant in a seemingly never-ending saga of injuries and absences at the position. Now that Winfield, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the offseason after being released by Minnesota, is free again, Frazier wouldn’t mind a reunion.
But Frazier isn’t banking on one either.
Winfield, released on the first day of free agency by the Vikings because he was due a $7.5 million salary in the final year of his contract, reportedly retired over the weekend after he was cut by Seattle.
“I have a ton of respect for Antoine as you know,” Frazier said. “He did a lot of good things for us here, had a great career here in Minnesota and really helped me look good at times with some of the plays he made.
“I have a deep affection for him, but if he wanted to play, I’d welcome the opportunity to work with Antoine again if that’s what he wanted to do. But if he’s retired, I wish him nothing but the best. He’s been a great player, a great person and he’s going to enjoy retirement. But he was a tremendous player for a long time in our league.”
Frazier said Monday he hasn’t talked to Winfield, 36, but planned on calling him to “wish him well.”
The Vikings are going with a young secondary without Winfield for the first time since signing him as a free agent in 2004. Second-year cornerback Josh Robinson, 22, has assumed Winfield’s spot as a starter next to Chris Cook, 26, in the base defense and plays Winfield’s old spot inside in the slot in the nickel defense. Rookie Xavier Rhodes, 23, is the third cornerback and A.J. Jefferson, 25, and Marcus Sherels, 25, are the other cornerbacks on the roster.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Winfield spent nine years with Minnesota and had 21 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and had 729 tackles. Even into his final season with the Vikings, Winfield was considered one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the league and was a well-respected leader in the locker room.
For now, he’ll have to be regarded in the past tense as he heads off into retirement.
Frazier mum on injury situation: Minnesota doesn’t need to release its first injury report of the season until Wednesday and Frazier was particularly quiet about the team’s injuries.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams missed practice Wednesday as he’s out with a bruised knee. The team was hopeful last week he’d be able to return in time for Sunday’s regular-season opener at Detroit.
Rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd did return to practice on Monday in the portion open to media. Floyd has been out since the second preseason game after having knee surgery. Receiver Jarius Wright had his helmet and was practicing Monday, and has passed his concussion testing. Safety Mistral Raymond (sprained shoulder) returned to practice Monday as well.
“We’re going to talk about injuries a little bit on Wednesday, and we’ll get into a little more detail about all those guys on Wednesday,” Frazier said.
If Williams is out Sunday, Frazier said the team could potentially start Letroy Guion and Fred Evans at defensive tackle. Frazier wasn’t sure if Floyd would be ready for a big role after missing time because of his injury.
“I think we’ll have to go through this week and determine that, but he’s missed quite a bit of time and then coming off an injury,” Frazier said. “We’ll have to gauge that as the week goes on.”
Mitchell still in line to start: Free-agent signee Desmond Bishop made the team’s final roster, but his push for a starting spot still hasn’t materialized. Frazier said Marvin Mitchell, who has worked as the starter at weakside linebacker throughout training camp and the preseason, is still the starter at the spot going into the first week of the regular season.
Bishop had received much more time working with the first-team defense in the past two preseason games and led the Vikings with 20 tackles in the preseason.
“As we speak, Marvin is our starting outside linebacker,” Frazier said. “Desmond did a good job, did enough to make our ball club. We’ll see how he progresses as we go forward.”
Undrafted Line makes the team: With fullback Jerome Felton suspended for the first three games, Minnesota kept undrafted rookie fullback Zach Line on the active roster. Tight end Rhett Ellison is expected to see time as a lead blocker, but Line could also fill in.
Line was an accomplished runner out of Southern Methodist, but the team wanted to see how his blocking would come along and if he could help while Felton is out.
“When you take a look at what he did at training camp and beyond, he came in and really grew as a player once we put the pads on, which is what we were waiting to see,” Frazier said. “We knew he was a pretty good runner, we wanted to see how he could block. He’s shown he can adapt to our style of offense, he can move those linebackers, and really be a good lead blocker for us, not just a good runner. He’s shown enough where we felt he would give us a strong option when we lined up against Detroit.”