MANKATO, Minn. -- In each of the last two seasons, Chris Crocker had planned on staying retired until he got a call from Mike Zimmer. Injuries had racked the Cincinnati Bengals' secondary, and Zimmer needed someone he could trust.
Crocker has played each of the last seven seasons for Zimmer, first in Atlanta and then in Cincinnati, and the 34-year-old's respect for the coach is such that he wouldn't consider playing for anyone else at this point in his career. So when Crocker was keeping himself in shape this offseason, in case he got another call to return, there was only one person whose call he would accept.
"At this point in my career, I really didn't want to go anywhere else," Crocker said after signing with the Vikings on Monday. "I'm not starting over. I wanted to come out here and play for a guy who's meant a lot to my career. I've given him everything I have."
Now, he'll see if he can give Zimmer a little more. The Vikings still have to figure out their safety position opposite Harrison Smith, where youth and injuries have left things unsettled. Crocker will certainly be asked to model the defense to the Vikings' younger players, but he also believes he can step in and contribute.
The Vikings will put their safeties in man coverage more often than the team has done in the past; their defensive staff likes the idea of being able to keep safeties in coverage as a way to play more snaps in a base defense and keep from becoming vulnerable against the run. Zimmer has also toyed with some three-safety looks as part of his nickel package.
"I'm a cover safety," Crocker said. "I've been covering my whole career, and that's what you have to do in this defense. You can't just be an in-the-box guy or a down-the-field guy. You have to do a lot of different things. To me, just being versatile will help these guys, and they'll see how I go about my business every day, how I study and how I play the game. I think I can help these guys."
Crocker becomes the oldest player on the Vikings' roster at age 34 -- as wide receiver Greg Jennings reminded him during his first session with reporters. Jennings, however, had a score to settle with the safety; he absorbed his first big hit in the NFL from Crocker during a 2006 preseason game when Jennings was a rookie receiver with the Green Bay Packers and Crocker was with the Falcons.
"I'm not going to say Brett (Favre) led me in on a slant, but I went after it, and all I remember is this guy coming down with this Falcon (logo) on his helmet and hitting me kind of hard," Jennings said. "I've messed with him about that for years now. In this NFL now, he would have got flagged. Easily. Throw the flag, ref."
Now, they're teammates, and Crocker returns to a system in which he's played the better part of his career.
"Just to come in, it's the same terminology, I know most of the staff, I've played against a lot of these guys," Crocker said. "'Zim' is the ultimate DB coach. I take my lead from him. It shouldn't be tough. I'll be able to help these guys learn it, also."