Munnerlyn has ‘pit bull' attitude on defense

Captain Munnerlyn has been hearing about his size for too long, but he's proved (even against the Vikings) that he makes plays and doesn't back down. He talked about his attitude and why Jerome Felton called him a "pit bull."

Captain Munnerlyn has the requisite chip on his shoulder as a seventh-round draft choice. In his case, his play on the field reflects that.

He called himself feisty. A former teammate, now a teammates again, fullback Jerome Felton, called him a pit bull. Felton played with Munnerlyn (and receiver Steve Smith) during the 2011 season at Carolina. Both play with an attitude.

"When I was there, (Munnerlyn) didn't talk too much trash, but he's kind of like a little pit bull. That would be a fair comparison (to Smith on offense)," Felton said. "Even with Steve, obviously he's not a big guy but he plays big. He kind of carries that, like a chip on his shoulder, and Captain brings the same type of deal. You get everything you got from him. He's going to play hard. He's going to be a pit bull, so I think he's going to be a great addition."

The Vikings certainly thought so, making him one of their priorities in free agency when they signed him to a three-year contract that could be worth as much as $15 million.

The Vikings could use some of his attitude on their defense, too. In 2013, they finished last in the NFL in points allowed, 30th in total defense and first downs allowed, and 31st in third-down efficiency. The Carolina Panthers finished third in total defense, first in points allowed, second in first downs allowed and fourth in third-down efficiency.

Munnerlyn believes the Vikings will have a top-10 defense this year, and he's hoping to bring a little bit of the prowess the Vikings lost when they allowed Antoine Winfield to leave last March.

"I watched his game, actually when I first got to the NFL. My coach showed me tape of him, making plays, flying around," Munnerlyn said. "He was like, ‘Man, you remind me of Antoine Winfield.' I was like, ‘Man,' so I started watching film on him. I kind of stole some of his game and brought it to my game. I don't hit as hard as he does. He can really bring it when he tackles. But I try to go out there and make the tackles and make plays just like him."

Munnerlyn does make plays. All four of his interceptions over the last two years were returned for touchdowns, something he attributed to his history as a punt returner, and his five interception returns for touchdowns in his first five years in the NFL is a league record that dates back to at least 1970.

"He's strong. To be his size, I think one thing you might underestimate is how strong the guy is," Felton said. "With those attributes, being fast, big, strong, he's not an easy guy to bring down or even get your hands on. Whenever you have that combination, usually it's a good thing when you got the ball in your hands."

One of Munnerlyn's signature plays was against the Vikings in 2011. With the Vikings in the red zone in the second quarter, Christian Ponder threw for Percy Harvin, who caught the ball at the 5-yard line. But as Harvin was going down, Munnerlyn knifed into Harvin's body and stole the ball away from him.

"I'm tough and I'm feisty and I love getting after people. That's what I do. I get after people and I don't shy down from nobody," said the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Munnerlyn. "I don't care if you're a 6-7, 6-8 lineman, I'm not shying down from you. I'm going to try to make plays and I'm going to hit you. That's why I think (Felton) called me a pit bull."

There is little doubt Munnerlyn has been hearing about his size and how he can't do certain things at cornerback because of it. It's likely why he lasted until the seventh round in 2009 and why it took him two years in the NFL to become a full-time starter.

"It's just going out there to prove to people I can play, and that I'm an every-down corner," he said. "Everybody looks at my size and says, ‘Oh man, he can't play. He's too short to play outside corner, or he's too short to do this. That's the biggest key with me, man. I was just trying to go out there and prove I can be an every-down corner, that I can make plays and bring toughness to a team."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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