At 35 years old, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield still has a good change-of-direction.
He can still make a move on a ball in the air, but he is also changing up his theme somewhat regarding his playing time this season. Back in May, Winfield seemed willing to concede playing mostly in the nickel defense.
"I'll communicate with the coaches and let them know how I feel. I don't know if I'll be out there playing 60, 70 snaps for 16 games. I don't think that will work at 35 years old," Winfield said then.
Now? Well, even two weeks into a generally hot training camp that has featured eight full-pads practices, Winfield says he is feeling great and has a new outlook on his role in the secondary.
"My plan is to be out there every snap. I would love to be out there 16 games game playing every snap," he said this week. "We'll see how it goes. It depends on how the legs are feeling halfway through the season (or) end of the year. We'll monitor that and we'll come up with a game plan and we'll see."
Last year, Winfield played in 30 percent of the defensive snaps, but he also missed 11 games with injury, meaning he would have been in for more than 90 percent of the snaps if he wasn't hampered by neck and collarbone injuries.
His numbers from 2010 – playing in 98 percent of the defensive snaps – are likely more representative of what he might have asked to do last year if healthy throughout the season.
Winfield doesn't buy into the line of thinking that he might have stayed healthy if his snaps would have been reduced. The nature of his injuries would seem to support his stance.
"Playing this game at this level, injuries are going to happen. It's a rough sport," he said. "Guys get hurt every other play. It's just the thing that happens. I don't think if my reps would have been cut back I probably would have played the rest of last season."
The Vikings may be rethinking just how much they limited Winfield's game snaps, too. While the coaching staff believes he is most effective when he's playing over the slot receiver so his blitzing instincts and run-stuffing acumen can be most effectively exploited, he is still one of the team's better cover cornerbacks on the outside, too.
"One of the concerns with Antoine is that we don't just pigeon hole him as a slot corner, that we don't just remove him from having to go line up outside and play corner," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, a former cornerback himself, said. "And he is showing in these one-on-ones that he can still get out and match up at times with wide receivers."
The Vikings have been limiting Winfield's reps in practices – he says he is getting about one-third of the snaps with each different full-team session – but when the regular-season games start they will still want to have their best players out on the field as much as possible.
Even at 35 years old, Winfield is still one of the best cover men the Vikings have in the secondary and defensive coordinator Alan Williams seems to know it. Last week, Williams praised Winfield's spunk in practice and said he is showing no real signs of his age.
"Antoine is a technician and the body is not going to stay young forever, so he can rely on his years of experience to play and play well and we realize that there are only so many reps that a body has so we want to be smart about how we use him, about how we play him," Williams said.
Some of Winfield's playing time is likely to be determined by how quickly the younger cornerbacks progress. If third-round pick Josh Robinson is able to reliably adapt to the NFL game by midseason, Winfield might be able to slide into a nickel role.
The wily veteran realizes that not many cornerbacks make it to their 14th year in the league. The fact that Winfield is only 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds and plays as physical as any cornerback in the league makes his longevity all the more impressive.
That age thing, I think, is overrated. I feel great," he said. "I'm still out here running around playing with these young guys."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Winfield now plans to play ‘every snap'
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