Linebacker Kevin Minter (51) hones in on a tackle during a preseason game in Green Bay last year.
Kevin Minter sat at his locker after a recent workout, an early nod to an upcoming season that is crucial to both his career and the team that drafted him in the second round.
The inside linebacker might've been in the same position last year – the day he was drafted it looked like he would be. But soon after, Karlos Dansby arrived and Minter was frozen as a special teams player, playing only one defensive snap all season. When a team has two inside linebackers like Dansby and Daryl Washington, it wasn't unexpected nor was it really much about Minter's ability.
Dansby is gone now, using his fantastic season as a stepping stone to a big free-agent contract with Cleveland. Minter is here,
hoping to step right in.
"He doesn't need to be Karlos," defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. "He needs to be Kevin."
That's a player who, physically, is certainly different than the 6-foot-4 Dansby. Minter is a compact 6 feet, with fire hydrant thighs that lead into his reputation as a run stuffer. He isn't guaranteed a starting spot in March, not like a Patrick Peterson or Washington or Calais Campbell, but it'll be an upset if he isn't the choice.
His preparedness for that role comes in part because of Dansby. Watching the veteran last season meant enough that Minter reached out to Dansby after Dansby signed with Cleveland, to let him know he appreciated all Dansby had taught him.
"It was a little bit frustrating last year, but at the same time, you couldn't help but learn," Minter said. "Karlos treated it like a business. He came to work every day to work, whether it was eating the right things, watching film, doing extra workouts. He was a great role model. With what he left, I feel like I can pick up the slack."
Dansby piled up the stats last season, but it isn't the interceptions or tackles or sacks that give Bowles pause with the veteran's departure. It's the leadership, not only on the field but in the locker room, formidable even though Dansby did not sport a "C" on his jersey.
"That presence will be missed," Bowles said.
Minter is only in his second season. He can't be expected to be as mentally advanced as 10-year vet Dansby was. That only comes with experience, Bowles noted.
"There are things Karlos can do that Kevin can't, but there are things Kevin can do that Karlos can't," Bowles added. "Kevin is a damn good football player. If he comes in and plays like Kevin and everyone does their job, he'll be fine. There's no more pressure on Kevin to replace Karlos other than him playing Mike linebacker."
Minter isn't worried about being the next Dansby. He knows he run with a high motor. He believes he has improved in his coverage skills and is better at it than people think. Rather than being nervous about stepping into a defense that was sixth-ranked in the NFL last season, he is anxious to get started.
His second-round status underscores "they expect a lot from me." Minter would have liked to play more as a rookie but he understands now why players grow so much between their rookie and second season because he got to see first-hand what needs to be done to be successful.
That's what Dansby did last year. Now, here comes Minter.
"The position isn't mine yet, it's a competition," Minter said. "But with what I can do and how I am preparing for this offseason, I feel I will turn some heads."