For a detailed explanation of the Cover 2 click here. Otherwise, essentially a corner-back's responsibility in a Cover 2 defense is to force runs back inside with an emphasis on run containment and jamming/re-routing receivers at the line of scrimmage. They cover the edges of the field from the front to the middle while typically dropping back to defend the void if there isn't a throw to the flat or a running play. (A Tampa 2 is essentially the same as a Cover 2 defense except that when reading a pass play in a Tampa 2 the middle linebacker drops into a deep middle coverage, or a Cover 3.)
The theory that is propounded concerning the Vikings approach to evaluating a scheme-compatible cornerback is predicated on the notion that since the Cover 2 is a zone-based defense with emphasis on the cornerback position contributing to run support, those sought by the Vikings need not possess pure cover skills as much as the physical traits which enable a cornerback to be an effective tackler and excel in zone coverage. And therefore, the value of a cornerback like Claiborne who is accredited with having "plus" ball and cover skills and whose abilities would benefit the most by playing in man-to-man, is diminished in a system built around zone coverage schemes.
Albeit this characterization of Claiborne is flawed when considering many scouts and league representatives believe that he would excel in a Cover 2-style defense, I decided the theory itself was worth researching. In doing so, I came across a Leslie Frazier two-part interview on Paul Allen's KFAN (100.3 FM) radio program having occurred at the NFL Combine on February 24 of this year. Allen was joined by Mike Wobschall of Vikings.com for the duration of the interview and can be linked to here. The interview with Frazier starting 34 minutes into the first hour of the broadcast, it is at the 39:34 mark that Wobschall asks Frazier specifically about the perception that the Vikings adhere to the stereotypical "Cover 2 corner" when drafting. His response might surprise some (many):
Mike Wobschall: "Another thing that you might consider in certain players is the-- their measurables. And we get that here at the combine: height and weight and size and length of arm and all that-- all those measure-ments. For you, when you’re evaluating cornerbacks, the-- the stigma is kind of like, Cover-2/Tampa-2 defense, you want big physical corners who can jam receivers at the line. Is that true? Do you really favor that type of corner, or do you look at-- look at all the different traits?
Leslie Frazier: "Yeah, you know, Mike, I hear that sometimes about a Tampa 2 corner. We’re not looking for a Tampa 2 corner, we’re looking for a guy who can cover and play some man. We want to-- we want to be able to mix in some man coverage and we weren’t able to do that as much as we wanted to a year ago. But when we played our best defense, we’ve been probably 50-50 man and zone. And we weren’t able to do that a year ago, and it hurt us-- I mean, it showed up in the secondary. So, we’re looking at a lot of other ingredients other than a guy who can just jam at the line of scrimmage and sit in the flats."
Wobschall: "And that makes a lot of sense because the best corner on our team is the smallest guy on our team. I mean, so... And Antoine Winfield is a phenomenal defender and doesn’t have that huge size, but he still makes a big impact."
Frazier: "No question about it. I mean, he’s a terrific tackler, he has excellent cover ability, which allows you to do some of the things we’d like to be able to do on a regular basis on defense. And we’re gonna be looking at this-- this group of prospects and trying to find guys that will give us a chance to play some man and mix in some zone as well."
The bottom line is the media has dropped the ball. Despite Leslie Frazier indicating in no less than in a broadcasted interview that with the right personnel he is committed to playing more man-to-man coverage, the pundits continue to pound away with the misperception that the Vikings are only interested in cornerbacks who schematically fit into a Cover 2-style zone coverage scheme.
Moreover, if the above quotes were not indicative enough of the pertinence Frazier is placing on finding a talented, scheme-adaptable cornerback this off-season, in part two of the interview which can be linked to here, Frazier provides us perhaps with a glimpse into his thinking regarding how he would like to use that third overall pick. At the 10:40 mark, Wobschall asks him whether he considers there to be depth at the cornerback position in the up-coming draft. Frazier replies:
"There’s depth. But usually, Mike, at the corner position, if you don’t get the guy early it’s tougher to develop that pro-bowl caliber corner late in the draft. Not that you can’t find one who can be a solid player, but generally the guys who go to Hawaii were guys who were taken early in the draft."
Ultimately, Rick Spielman will get the final say in who the Vikings draft. But, regardless, with Adam Schefter and others reporting that the Vikings are leaning toward taking a player other than USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil if they should remain at the number three pick, these comments might be revealing of who they intend to take.