Captain Munnerlyn believes one of the smaller players on the field can make one of the biggest differences. The new Vikings cornerback is referring to himself – all 5-foot-8, 195 pounds of him.
"I can make a whole lot of plays. That's my nickname for myself – I always call myself ‘the big difference,'" Munnerlyn said during the second week of the Vikings' offseason conditioning program. "When I'm on the field, I'm the big difference."
He did have a significant impact in 2012 and 2013 with the Carolina Panthers. He returned each of his four interceptions over the last two years for touchdowns, including runbacks of 45 and 74 yards.
He started 41 games in the past three years with the Panthers before signing a three-year, $11.25 million contract with the Vikings when he became an unrestricted free agent last month. He expects to be a full-time starter for the Vikings and then cash in with one more big contract before he turns 30.
"I can make a whole lot of plays in this defense. Start outside and then slide in to play the nickel back. That's what I'm going to do, start outside and slide into the nickel back," he said. "Make plays. Bring the physical toughness to this secondary and go out there and get my hands on some balls and take them to the house."
That hasn't been a sight witnessed often for the Vikings. Last year, none of their 12 interceptions were returned for touchdowns. In 2012, safety Harrison Smith returned two interceptions for touchdowns and defensive lineman Everson Griffen brought one back for a score, but no cornerbacks found the end zone.
Not since Antoine Winfield in 2010 has a Vikings cornerback found the end zone and that wasn't on an interception return. Not since 2007 has a Vikings cornerback (Winfield) scored a touchdown on an interception return.
Munnerlyn has been compared to Winfield for good reason – both are most effective in the slot and neither breaks the 5-foot-9 mark.
Munnerlyn said one of the reasons he chose the Vikings was because of the defensive-minded ways of head coach Mike Zimmer. He also believes the defense he played in with the Carolina Panthers under Ron Rivera is similar to what Zimmer will employ in Minnesota.
"It's not very different, just different terminology but the same style defense," Munnerlyn said. "You build defense off the front four, defensive line. You go out there and let those guys hunt and we cover them in the back end. We signed some great people on the defensive line to make our jobs easier on the back end – the same philosophy we had in Carolina.
"It's almost like the same defense. Different tweaks here and there, different terminology, but it's almost the same defense. It's going to be a very physical defense. They're going to have a very good defensive line. Just let those guys hunt and we come up from the back end and make plays."
Munnerlyn said he hasn't figured out if he will be asked to play the left or right cornerback spot, but he's played both in Carolina and doesn't have a preference. Last year, rookie Xavier Rhodes eventually worked into a starting spot at left cornerback before he was injured, so it figures that Munnerlyn might start at right cornerback and then move inside in nickel situations, but all that will play out after potential draft picks are figured into the rotation and practices start in earnest in May and June.
For now, Munnerlyn is intrigued with the personnel, especially on the defensive line, and looking forward to playing for Zimmer.
"I'm excited about it. He lets you play. He's a defensive-minded coach. That's what I like – a coach who's going to win the game on defense. He's going to let the secondary play," Munnerlyn said. "I'm excited about the chance to play football and compete."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Munnerlyn views himself ‘the big difference'
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