Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler has gone from being a healthy scratch in Week 1 to likely starting in Week 8.
Dantzler, who started 10 of the 11 games he played last season as a rookie, lost his job in training camp after the Vikings brought in free-agent cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland. Then Dantzler surprisingly was benched in the Sept. 12 opener at Cincinnati when Kris Boyd had moved ahead of him as the top reserve outside cornerback.
But Dantzler moved back ahead of Boyd in recent weeks. And on Sunday night against Dallas at U.S. Bank Stadium, Dantzler is in line to move into the lineup to replace Peterson, who went on injured reserve last week. Peterson, who has a hamstring injury, must miss at least three games, and general manager Rick Spielman is optimistic he will return when eligible to do so Nov. 21 against Green Bay.
“I’m very confident,” Danztler said Monday after players returned to the TCO Performance Center following the Vikings’ bye week. “I always had to be prepared when my name would be called, so I’m very excited for the moment to be back out there with the guys, making plays and helping this team win.”
Last month, after Dantzler was benched in the 27-24 overtime loss to the Bengals, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he needed to do better on special teams to get back on the field. Dantzler said he was “humbled” by the move and that he “worked harder” after it.
“From the beginning, I always came in and did what I had to do just to make myself better,” he said Monday. “I came to work each and every day, and I gave 110 percent. And me just being out Week 1, I feel like that humbled me because I wasn’t expecting that, so it just made me push a little more than what I was doing at first.”
Dantzler bounced back the week after the benching to play 16 snaps in reserve in a 34-33 loss at Arizona, and broke up a pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter on third down. In a 14-7 loss to Cleveland in Week 4, he played the final 72 defensive snaps of the game after Breeland departed after six plays because of an illness.
In Minnesota’s last game, a 34-28 overtime win at Carolina on Oct. 17, Dantzler played 25 snaps. That included 11 in relief of Peterson after he was injured with 2:03 left in regulation.
“I think he’s been a little bit more focused on what he’s trying to do out there,” Zimmer said of Danzler’s play since his benching. “He’s had opportunities to make some plays.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Dantzler has the highest rating this season of any Vikings cornerback. He has a rating of 67.9 (in 113 snaps), compared to 64.3 for Peterson (391 snaps), 55.8 for nickelback Mackensie Alexander (279 snaps), 54.7 for Breeland (294 snaps) and 29.8 for Boyd (eight snaps).
Now, Dantzler is ready to make his first start since Dec. 25, 2020 at New Orleans. He believes he’s a better player than last year even if this season didn’t start out the way he had hoped.
“I’m more confident in my game, and I’m more relaxed out there on the field,” he said.
Zimmer said after last season that Danzler needed to bulk up to become less injury prone, and the cornerback said he put on about 10 pounds. Danzler said he “lost a few pounds” when he spent 10 days on the COVID-19 reserve list earlier this month and that he now weighs about 180.
While on the COVID-19 list, Dantzler missed Minnesota’s 19-17 win over Detroit on Oct. 10. But he returned to face the Panthers.
“I’m starting to get my weight back thanks to the nutrition, and I’m feeling great right now,” he said.
In the meantime, Dantzler, a 23-year-old second-year player, has been getting advice from Peterson, a 31-year-old 11-year veteran.
“He basically just told me to do what I do, do what I do best,” Dantzler said. “Go out there and be confident, play with swagger. Just be Cam, go out there and play ball. … He’s like a grandfather to me, basically. He’s straight forward.”