When the Minnesota Vikings reached out to bring veteran safety George Iloka into an already full starting rotation of safeties just one week after the Bengals decided they didn't have a spot for him, we all should have assumed that Mike Zimmer had something up his sleeve.
Iloka and Zimmer spent two seasons together in Cincinnati before Zimmer accepted the head coaching position in Minnesota but George must have made a pretty good impression on the coach. This is the second time that the Vikings have gone after Iloka, the first being when they reportedly made an offer to him during the 2016 Free Agency period. George opted to stay in Cincinnati but an influx of young talent ended that relationship just two years later.
He reportedly had a few other offers after being released, but his familiarity with Zimmer's defense, the roster on hand and then the potential for this sneaky special role might have been enough to sway him away from another suitor and to Minnesota for no more than the veteran's minimum.
Analysts like Ben Leber hopped on these special situations pretty quickly and today at TCO defensive coordinator George Edwards confirmed that the Vikings have indeed been trying Iloka out in this new hybrid role.
"We've given him some reps in that role," Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said Monday. "We have been working him in that role some and we'll continue using his skill sets back at safety and underneath [at LB]."
Essentially, playing this hybrid linebacker position would give Iloka and the Vikings the ability to run a hybrid subpackage in which depending on keys from the offense, George and his 6'4", 225lb body could trigger up as a fourth linebacker or fade back as a third safety.
It's been a big part of Mike Zimmer's defense here in Minnesota to keep the opposition off balance. We've heard the praises of the "double a-gap" blitz, we've seen him use players like Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter in hybrid roles before. Now, we're just seeing that progression and that familiarity actually drawing a player in to Minnesota and into Mike Zimmer's defense.
"[George Iloka] came in and [he's] already been exposed to the system, it's a blessing," Edwards continued. "He's come in and jumped right in...For the most part he's got a good grasp of what we're looking for."
Iloka will likely see some extended time in the team's fourth preseason game on Thursday as Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo get the night off. We'll have to pay attention to see how much he falls back in the traditional safety role and how much he swings up as a LB...or maybe Mike Zimmer will keep it all under wraps until the season begins!