Cameron Dantzler Showed Growth Last Weekend
It’s often hard to avoid negativity when one is a fan of the Minnesota Vikings. Our team’s unique combination of frequent success interspersed with frequent failure is the stuff of legend in these parts, and our expectations routinely hang at the precipice where hope meets anguish. The continuous pinballing between the two inevitably leaves fans with negative juju invading their aura; in its shadow, it takes a great deal of mental energy to stay positive.
There are many players that feel our collective juju invading their own personal space as well, and I imagine it must take a great deal of fortitude to play at a high level knowing that masses of fans have chosen this route of negativity, turning their collective backs on you despite your supposed status as an elite athlete. Kirk Cousins, of course, is the poster child for victims of fan-inflicted negativity everywhere.
But he’s far from the only one. Who hasn’t taken the name of one or more additional Vikings in vain when screaming at their television set during the Vikings’ frequent cycles of failure that occur not just season-by-season but week-by-week and even quarter-by-quarter?
Last week’s victory over the Chicago Bears was eerily similar to each of the team’s other wins this season, where the Vikings—and individual players—looked like dominant All-Pros at one point in the game, and overmatched doormats at another. Cousins, Danielle Hunter, the entire linebacker Corp, moved from high tide to low and back again at their own various places throughout the game, leaving us once again feeling exhausted by the time the victory was secured.
One man who defied that up-and-down feeling last Sunday was Cameron Dantzler, a player who I personally will admit to having inflicted a great deal of negative energy upon during his 2+ up-and-down in Minnesota. In the past I have repeatedly found myself slapping my forehead and shouting, “Dantzler!” while watching the Vikings secondary bend and break under the weight of a young cornerback learning an extremely difficult job on the fly at the NFL level.
Dantzler was the Vikings’ third-round choice in 2020, and expectations were perhaps unreasonably high as he secured a starting role for 10 of the team’s 16 games in his rookie season. In that first year he was often torched, frequently flagged, and only occasionally a positive factor in his team’s games.
In a sport full of difficult positions to fill, I would posit that the most difficult one to learn on the defensive side of the ball must surely be cornerback. Moving from college to the pros the rules change, the competition elevates, and yes, the expectations explode.
A corner in today’s NFL must learn just where the fine line lies between playing aggressively physical defense with downfield receivers and committing pass interference. That no two officials seem to have the same interpretation of the rules makes this challenge even taller; that the NFL really wants to see more completed passes downfield (as do we the fans) it becomes harder still. It’s hardly a shock that Dantzler and virtually every other first- and second-year corner has looked foolish at high rates.
And so, we hurl our fury and negativity on these players and immediately wait for the next newly drafted corner to take the place of the foolish young corner. I for one couldn’t wait for somebody to come in and grab Dantzler’s job permanently. Godspeed, Andrew Booth.
But a funny thing happens to these foolish young corners when they are failing and flailing game after game. They learn, grow, go away in the off-season and work on things, and spend hours and hours with their coaches honing their craft, on the field and in the film room. And eventually they become competent enough that you don’t notice them taking penalties and getting beat anymore.
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And then, maybe they even have a game like Dantzler had last Sunday. He looked like he belonged. He personally shut down a two-point conversion that could have meant everything to the Bears. And of course, he saved the game with one of the most physically impressive, mentally alert, and dramatically issued plays I’ve seen in years—not just tearing the ball from Ihmir Smith Marsette’s arms but imposing his will upon him to stomp out a potential game-tying Bears rally and secure a Viking win. It was a stirring final moment in another nerve-racking day.
I was happy for the Vikings for winning the game, for Cameron Dantzler who finally had his genuine day in the sun, and for me, personally, because it’s a burden to carry around all that negative juju and suddenly it all went away, leaving me feeling light as a feather.
In one day, Dantzler removed that weight from my shoulders by showing undeniably that he is growing into a competent NFL corner.