The laugh said it all as far as helping outsiders understand how happy Kurt Coleman is to be out of Philadelphia and now in the mix at strong safety for the Vikings.
“Honestly, there are things you can control and things you can’t control in this league,” Coleman said Friday night after starting at strong safety, intercepting a pass and making three tackles in the Vikings’ 10-6 win over the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium. “I don’t think I was what [the Eagles] wanted as far as size. And that’s fine.
“They felt I had a ceiling, but it is what it is. When you have a new coaching staff, they come in with a new philosophy and they have an idea of who fits their defense and who doesn’t. That’s where I fell into.”
The 5-11, 200-pound Coleman was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles out of Ohio State in 2010. In 2011, he started 13 games and had four interceptions, including three in one game against Washington’s Rex Grossman. It was the first time since 1966 that an Eagles player had three picks in one game.
In 2012, Coleman started 14 games was second on the team in tackles with 105. But his career arc in Philly peaked when coach Andy Reid was fired and replaced by Chip Kelly. He didn’t start a game and had only 10 tackles in 2013 and basically rocketed out the door as soon as he could in free agency.
“All I really ask for is an opportunity,” Coleman said. “At the end of the day, I think I can live with myself if I say I had the opportunity and didn’t make it. But it’s tough to say when you don’t get that opportunity and you felt like you should have. So I’m happy to be a part of this team. I felt very welcomed as soon as I got here.”
Coleman is listed as the No. 2 free safety behind clear-cut starter Harrison Smith. But Friday night, the ongoing injuries at strong safety pushed the Vikings to start Coleman at that position alongside Smith.
“I guess you could say the safeties are pretty much interchangeable,” Coleman said. “There are certain things a free safety has to do and there are certain things a strong safety has to do. But I’ve been going back and forth. So I’m comfortable at both.
“Pretty much, I was strong safety the whole time in the game [Friday]. But, honestly, sometimes in the two-minute situation, you don’t have time to go back and forth, so you just play left and right safety.”
It also helps that Coleman has had to adjust to new defenses throughout his short career.
“I had four different defensive coordinators in Philly and this is my fifth defensive system,” he said. “So I’ve had a vast knowledge of the game of football from the defensive side of the ball. So it’s helped with the transition here.”
The first-team defense played for two series on Friday. But Coleman stayed in the game and played alongside rookie sixth-round draft pick Antone Exum. That’s when Coleman made his interception, the only takeaway by either team on Friday.
Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr threw to the flat, but the ball bounced off of the fullback’s shoulder pads and Coleman was in position to make the diving pick.
“It was a bootleg and I was sitting back,” Coleman said. “There was a crosser coming from the opposite side, but I also was reading when the delay to the flat.
“Once I saw them getting ready to throw the ball, I broke on it. And it was a high throw. He’s a young QB. He’ll learn that you got to get the ball low because if he drops it, it goes to the ground. But if he tips it, that’s what happens. I was just in the right position at the right time.”
That appears to also be the case as the fledgling strong safety competition unfolds. Injuries sidelined the top two safeties on the depth chart – Robert Blanton (hamstring) and Jamarca Sanford (back) – on Friday. Inconsistent play ruled out Mistral Raymond from starting, while veteran Chris Crocker sat because he has had only three practices after signing on Monday.
Crocker is 34, an 11-year veteran and knows the defense from having played under Mike Zimmer the past seven seasons. This is the third consecutive year he’s essentially been pulled out of retirement to play for Zimmer. But he needs to get his camp legs under him before he steps into the competition at strong safety.
That could enable the younger Coleman to build upon Friday’s solid start.
“I think I can add something to this team,” Coleman said. “I have been able to be successful when I do play. So I think there is something to be said about what I’m able to do on the field.”
Zimmer sounded happy with Coleman, which is one of the few times the head coach has had reason to smile about the strong safety spot.
“Kurt’s done a good job,” Zimmer said. “He’s a veteran guy. He’s been a good special teams player in the league. He doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He works real hard, studies real hard, asks good questions. He’s done a very nice job.”