The Minnesota Vikings targeted cornerback Jeff Gladney in the first round of the NFL draft last week, desiring his spunk and speed for a critical position.
When Gladney answered the phone as the Vikings prepared to turn in the 31st overall pick to the league, that confidence was already evident.
”He said, `I’ve been waiting for you guys to call,”’ coach Mike Zimmer said. ”That’s part of the things that you like about him. He’s a competitor.”
Whenever the virus restrictions are lifted and rookies can report to their teams, Gladney will be well-served to carry that bring-it-on attitude with him.
The foundation of Zimmer’s coaching success was built on an ability to develop cornerbacks, going back to Deion Sanders in Dallas during the 1990s. But progress for his pupils has required plenty of tough love.
Four years at TCU under coach Gary Patterson, who got to know Zimmer during his days with the Cowboys, ought to help.
”I can take coaching. It doesn’t matter how they deliver it,” Gladney said. ”I just get the message.”
Patterson, on a video conference call with Minnesota reporters last week, joked that Zimmer would be ”a mild cat” compared to the hard-nosed staff with the Horned Frogs.
The ”country tough” Gladney, who’s from the tiny town of New Boston in the northeast corner of Texas, drew Patterson’s admiration for his dedication.
That included one particular practice on a 100-degree day when injuries at the position forced Gladney to take turns with the first, second and third teams.
”He always had the speed and toughness but really has worked hard at becoming all the rest of it,” Patterson said.
Gladney played last year through a torn meniscus in one of his knees and ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine before he had surgery.
”It was just all heart. I wanted to show everybody what I had before I had the surgery,” said Gladney, who started 42 games at TCU.
As a senior, he led the Big 12 with 14 breakups. In this pass-happy conference, opponents simply had little success when throwing in Gladney’s direction.
He was measured at the combine at 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds, smaller than the prototype for cornerbacks playing Zimmer’s preferred press coverage, but the Vikings were enamored enough with his other attributes to not be deterred. He’s got long arms and delivers a big hit.
”Doesn’t matter what size opponent I’m playing: I’m going to bring physicality to it. It’s just if you want it or you don’t,” Gladney said.
Zimmer has long said he’d rather tell a young cornerback ”whoa” than ”go.”
His belief is that a way to play the position with ferocity yet a low total of penalty flags can be taught easier than it is trying to make a player more aggressive.
”You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. But if you have that swagger, if you do give up a play or something and come back and go compete again, I think that’s a special personality that we look for in corners,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said.
The Vikings also drafted Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler in the third round and Temple’s Harrison Hand in the fifth round and signed Central Florida’s Nevelle Clarke and North Carolina’s Myles Dorn to add depth at a position where all three regulars from last year departed.
Mike Hughes, the first-round draft pick in 2018, will top the depth chart in 2020. Gladney will have every opportunity to start, with Holton Hill and Kris Boyd also factoring heavily into the competition.
Zimmer, along with new defensive backs coaches Daronte Jones and Roy Anderson, will have as much teaching to do this season as he’s had since arriving in Minnesota in 2014.
”I feel I’m just the perfect pick for him and just hoping I can live up to that and make him proud,” Gladney said.
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