AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Vikings are counting on some savvy, productive performances by their unseasoned cornerbacks.
Playing beyond their years will be a must in this pass-happy league.
The guys in charge of this critical position begin with Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and rookie Xavier Rhodes. Combined, this trio has played in 38 regular season games and totaled just two interceptions, both by Robinson last year. A.J. Jefferson is the only other player in the mix for playing time with significant experience in the secondary.
"I think any corner in the NFL is hungry, especially if he's not known," Robinson said this week. "He's hungry to make himself known, and that's how we are as a unit. Not just with us three, but our entire secondary. We're hungry for that success. We're hungry to be the best."
Missing of course is stalwart veteran Antoine Winfield, who was let go and is now with Seattle. Not only will the group be without his leadership, but his steady play and sure tackling will be hard to replace. Robinson has been asked to move inside to the slot in the nickel package on obvious passing downs, a spot he's never played before in his life. Cook and Robinson will start together in the base defense.
Robinson and Rhodes each missed some practice time at the beginning of training camp because of hamstring injuries, which didn't help the push for cohesion.
"They haven't had much time together on task," coach Leslie Frazier said. "For Josh Robinson, we need to get a feel for him playing a new position playing a slot corner. Xavier Rhodes as well, having to play hopefully a lot of snaps for us in nickel situations, is like being a starter now. So that secondary, these next two games, will be very, very important to find out where we are and what we are trying to do improve before we play that first game. It is a key area for us to get a feel for coming out of this preseason."
The Vikings play at Buffalo on Friday and at San Francisco on Aug. 25, the two exhibition games when starters typically play significantly. For Rhodes, the first-round draft pick from Florida State, these contests will especially be important. After returning from his hamstring issue, Rhodes has looked slow out of his break in certain full-team drills against the wide receivers.
"There are going to be some growing pains," Frazier said. "That's just the way it is in our league, at that position especially. Not only with him but with Josh as well. We have to keep giving them a lot of other looks and situations, while letting them respond, react, grow, and learn. But we have to expose them to a lot because when we line up in September, nobody is going to feel sorry for the fact that this is the first time starting at their positions."
Robinson played sparingly last week against Houston, but Rhodes was held out. So this will be his first NFL action this weekend.
"I'm getting the technique down pat, getting the scheme down pat. So you could say I'm ready," Rhodes said, adding: "We feel like we have something to prove every day. We're trying to be known. We're just trying to go out there and just practice hard every day and do what we can do best. And do what they pay us to do, and that's cover."
NOTES: Outside LB Desmond Bishop, among a handful of players who missed the exhibition opener due to injury, is on track to play on Friday, which would be his first game of any kind in more than a calendar year since tearing his right hamstring. Last week, he was bothered by groin trouble. "This is kind of an urgent time right now," Bishop said. ... QB Christian Ponder is expected to play on Friday into the second quarter with the rest of the starting offense, though RB Adrian Peterson's participation level had yet to be determined. Ponder took only two snaps last week, completing one pass and getting picked off on another. "These next two games are crucial for us as an offense and for everybody because we're going to get a lot of snaps," he said.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org
Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.