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Will Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes be a dynamic-duo in the secondary? Daniel House answers this question and previews the cornerback position.
Updated: July, 23rd 2015 11:00am
By: Daniel House
The Vikings used the draft to add another cornerback that could develop into a shut-down player opposite of Xavier Rhodes. Trae Waynes will likely see extended time this season and Mike Zimmer will be working diligently to get him up to speed in the NFL. In free agency, the team also signed veteran Terence Newman to provide a sense of leadership to the secondary. If Waynes isn't quite ready, Newman could get the starting nod on the outside. After a disappointing first season in Minnesota, the coaches will be asking for improved production from Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn needs to stay healthy in training camp and playing more in the slot might help him return to his natural form. Josh Robinson is injured and will likely be placed on PUP, while Marcus Sherels, Jabari Price, and Shaun Prater will be battling hard for the final roster spots. Justin Coleman is another name to keep an eye on in the cornerback group. The Vikings added him as an undrafted rookie and he already was starting to turn heads in the off-season activities program. The cornerback position is more crowded than usual, but there definitely are still some unanswered questions heading into training camp.
Xavier Rhodes was drafted in 2013 with the thought of being a franchise 'shut-down' cornerback for the future. In a scheme that didn't feature an emphasis on man-to-man coverage and physicality, Rhodes wasn't used to his full potential during his rookie season. That was until Mike Zimmer was named the head coach and the defensive philosophy changed. Rhodes took the next step and finished the 2014 season with a team-high 18 pass breakups. The minute Mike Zimmer hit the practice field, he was working with the defensive backs in the secondary. Rhodes was one of the players he specifically coached to improve his game. As the practices progressed, you could continually see his footwork and technique evolve. Rhodes was gaining comfort in the man-to-man aspect of coverage. In fact, by the end of the season, Mike Zimmer and Xavier Rhodes discussed how the coaching work they did early in the year, made all the difference in the end. The best performances for Rhodes came in weeks 9-13, where he ranked as the third-best cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. During this stretch, he was matching up across from Jordy Nelson, Alshon Jeffery, Kelvin Benjamin and Eric Decker. Those trends need to continue as the Vikings begin the 2015 season.
The Vikings needed another cornerback that could be developed into a solid option on the outside opposite of Xavier Rhodes. They drafted Trae Waynes with their first round selection to add a player with a long frame that could make an impact. Waynes has the intelligence level, along with the athleticism to be groomed into a top-tier cornerback. During rookie workouts, Mike Zimmer praised Waynes' ability to pick up information quickly and said his learning skills were some of the best he had seen in his coaching career. This is a huge compliment and is a statement that shouldn't be taken lightly. Mike Zimmer knows cornerbacks and if he can develop the footwork and technique that Waynes possesses, the Vikings will have a dynamic duo at cornerback. Waynes has the length and experience playing man coverage, which fits the philosophy of cornerbacks on this team. One thing is certain -- it will be interesting to see where Waynes is on the depth chart when training camp opens.
Terence Newman provides the Vikings with a veteran presence at the cornerback position. The front office decided to sign him in free agency to provide some stability to the depth chart. Newman played for Mike Zimmer in Dallas and Cincinnati and knows what to expect from a defensive philosophy standpoint. At 36 years old, he might not be the ideal option at cornerback, but he can provide a level of leadership necessary in the secondary. Newman played in 13 games for the Bengals last season and corralled 72 total tackles, while adding one interception. If Trae Waynes needs more time to develop, Newman could start on the outside, while Waynes rotates into the fold. It won't be determined until the preseason whether Waynes is ready to start, but it seems likely Newman could see extended action early in the season.
After signing a relatively respectable free agent contract, Captain Munnerlyn underachieved last season. After being a playmaker in Carolina, he didn't provide the Vikings with the energy injection they expected. Munnerlyn was ranked a measly seventh on the team with 60 tackles. Not to mention, he was third for the Vikings with two interceptions and fifth on the team with four pass deflections. That's not the type of production the Vikings were yearning for when they signed Munnerlyn. Opposing quarterbacks were searching for him on the field and were consistently throwing in his direction. He wasn't asked to play in the slot as much this year and many within the organization feel like that played a role in his performance decline. This year, the anticipation is that he will play exclusively in the slot. However, Munnerlyn will need to show he is worthy of a roster spot in training camp and the preseason. Nothing is free in the NFL.
Jabari Price (suspended for two games)
Jabari Price was a player the Vikings were really moving up the depth chart last year in training camp. His physicality and ability to line up on the outside were both areas that helped distinguish his skill-set in this system. He played in 14 games, mostly in a special teams role, but did manage to enter the game for a brief stint when injuries struck. He is a developmental project and had another off-season to grow as a defensive back. However, he didn't help his cause after being arrested for suspicion of DUI in late December. That type of decision could impact him if roster decisions are close between other players. There is no question he has the potential, but is he worth the investment and time?
Josh Robinson (most likely placed on PUP list)
According to multiple reports, Josh Robinson suffered a pectoral tear and will miss a significant portion of the season. None of this has been confirmed, but an announcement will likely be made when the Vikings move-in for training camp. Robinson made minimal improvements in the defensive system, but still didn't fit the size and physicality standards that Mike Zimmer was searching for from his cornerbacks. The pectoral injury (depending on the severity) could cause him to miss most of the season, which opens the door for a young player to gain a roster spot in training camp.
Every year, Marcus Sherels is the player that many believe will be the odd-man out during roster cuts. His special teams contributions have been one of the main reasons he has latched on with the Vikings consistently. As a punter returner, Marcus Sherels has accumulated numerous team records and accolades. While playing cornerback, he has been an injury replacement and hasn't been anything to write home about. However, the coaches feel his hard work ethic traits and special teams contributions are enough to keep him around. He might not be the most talented, but he is coachable and will perform at an average level in the secondary.
Shaun Prater is considered a cornerback, but Mike Zimmer has continually referenced him as a safety in the past. He saw some action at safety during the late stage of the preseason, but wasn't actively playing there. Prater played in 10 games, but didn't hardly see the field on defense. His role -- when active -- was to be a special teams contributor. Last year, Prater was continually handling the physicality well in training camp and it was enough for him to land a spot on the roster. He fits the system well and Mike Zimmer was familiar with him from his time in Cincinnati. This season will provide the most steep climb he has faced since joining the Vikings organization.
DeMarcus Van Dyke
DeMarcus Van Dyke was signed by the Vikings in the off-season after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Van Dyke has been in the league since 2011 and made stops in Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. In his limited time on the field, you can definitely see that he has some excellent straight-line speed. When he pairs this with his height, he can recover very nicely when beat. I wouldn't call him a playmaker and his overall game is a little rough around the edges at this point. However, he is a developmental project that the Vikings could stash away for later.
After spending a short stint on the Rams practice squad in 2011, Jalil Carter played in the AFL, and eventually, the CFL. He was originally a wide receiver with the Rams, but converted to quarterback in the CFL. He doesn't have the full athletic package, but he does provide speed. Carter was most known for his kick-off returning in the CFL and there just isn't much tape to watch on him. He will be a player simply taking reps at training camp.
Justin Coleman might be the most intriguing undrafted rookie the Vikings added this off-season. A shoulder surgery kept Coleman from being selected in the NFL Draft. In his senior season at Tennessee, Coleman corralled four interceptions and 42 tackles. He missed some time in OTA's, but when he was on the field, the coaching staff was impressed with his talent. Coleman has excellent instincts and smarts, but he needs to get bigger by working in the weight room. When he was overmatched physically, he had some glaring issues in coverage. However, he has the potential to translate to the NFL if he can make some strides in his technique and fundamentals. Coleman is a player to watch closely during training camp and the preseason.