With a few extra pounds and a new number, Cameron ‘The Needle’ Dantzler battles to start a job at Vikings – Twin Cities
No matter how much weight Cameron Dantzler puts on, he insists his nickname “The Needle” is here to stay.
The 6-foot-2 cornerback got it as a 140-pound sophomore at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond, Louisiana in 2013. He gradually worked up the weight scale and was 182 pounds when he joined the Vikings as a rookie in 2020.
Last year, Dantzler gained 185 pounds. Now, entering his third season, he’s at 191 – with plans to add a few more pounds.
“I’ve gained weight and I’m stronger, and I’m faster,” Dantzler said. “I checked all the boxes I needed to check this offseason to get better. I get my body right. I have a nutritionist. I lift weights. But that name “The Needle” stuck with me. It’s not going anywhere.
Dantzler will be hoping his off-season work will get him back into the starting lineup. As a 2020 rookie, Dantzler, a third-round draft pick from Mississippi State, started 10 of the 11 games he played, but that was partly due to the Vikings’ exhausted secondary at the time.
Dantzler initially looked set to stay on the roster in 2021. But last June, the Vikings signed veteran cornerback Bashaud Breeland to a one-year, $3 million deal, and he beat Dantzler in camp. ‘coaching.
Breeland started the first 13 games, though Pro Football Focus ranked him as one of the NFL’s worst cornerbacks all season. Dantzler did not deny there was disappointment with then-Vikings coach Mike Zimmer continuing to stay with Breeland.
“It was a little frustrating, but ultimately it’s a business decision,” he said. “The coaches did what they thought was best.”
After Week 3, Dantzler, who was inactive as a healthy zero in Game 1 and didn’t play defense in Game 3, tweeted, “I’m sick of biting my tongue about any this situation fr (for real).”
“It was just a young me, a bit of frustration,” he admitted. “But I meant no harm. I was just a little frustrated.
Zimmer said after the tweet was posted and then deleted, that Dantzler “would be consulted.” However, Dantzler said the coaches did not address him.
As it turned out, Dantzler started four of the first 13 games, replacing Patrick Peterson, who had a hamstring injury and was on the COVID-19 reserve list at the time. Then, after Breeland was released for having a verbal altercation with coaches and teammates in practice, Dantzler was inserted into the lineup for the final four games. He said he was “ready when my name was called”.
After the season, Zimmer was let go and replaced by Kevin O’Connell, who will lead the attack. The new defensive coordinator is Ed Donatell. Defensive backs coach Daronte Jones returns after playing that role with the Vikings during Dantzler’s rookie season and then spending 2021 as LSU’s defensive coordinator.
“Last year was kind of a rollercoaster, but I got my confidence back,” Dantzler said. “New team. New start. So I’m ready to show what I can do this year.
Dantzler will most likely face rookie Andrew Booth Jr., a second-round draft pick from Clemson, for the starting job. Booth has been restricted in spring exercises as he continues to recover from hernia surgery in March.
“When we drafted him, I was excited,” Dantzler said. “I was happy to add some firepower in the secondary. Booth, he’s a great player, and I’m going to love competing with him. Whoever starts is what helps the team win at the end of the day. … But it’s going to be a big battle.
Peterson is in line to start at a cornerback position, and more will be known about the other cornerback position in training camp when Booth is likely healthy. Dantzler ran with the first team during spring exercises.
“We like what he sees, the things you know about him, his height, he plays the game well, he’s more experienced,” Donatall said. “So everything is fine.”
Along with adjusting to a new coaching staff, Danztler has a new number. After wearing 27 in his first two seasons with the Vikings, he switched to his old number 3 at Mississippi State.
Former NFL cornerback Terrell Buckley, shown Thursday, July 30, 2020, wears a t-shirt referencing Minnesota Vikings rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler, whose nickname is “The Needle.” Buckley, now a cornerbacks coach at Mississippi, previously held that position with Mississippi State and coached Dantzler before being taken by the Vikings in the third round of the April 2020 draft. (Courtesy Terrell Buckley ) Punter Jordan Berry wore 3 last year but agreed to give it up for modest compensation. Berry, who moved up to 16, said his only requirement was that Dantzler had to pay 10 to 12 family members to get No. 16 Vikings jerseys with “Berry” on the back. It should cost a few thousand dollars.
“I asked Jordan about it, and he’s a great guy and he gave me 3 to bring back that swagger I had in college,” Dantzler said.
Perhaps the return of #3 could help market the moniker “The Needle” as well. In early 2020, before Dantzler was drafted and before rules changed in 2021 allowing NFL defensive backs to wear single-digit numbers, Dantzler had custom t-shirts made with his initials and nickname. spelled “Needl3”. Sales of the shirts benefited the child hunger charity No Kid Hungry, and former NFL cornerback Terrell Buckley, who was Dantzler’s varsity coach, said he bought some various.