Debate begins on Munnerlyn’s role

Captain Munnerlyn is close to returning from a hamstring injury, but what will his role be? He says he’s “a staring corner,” but Mike Zimmer says his strength is in the nickel.

Captain Munnerlyn is close to coming of the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but his role when that happens is a topic for debate.

Munnerlyn strained his right hamstring while working out in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., before training camp. He tried to fight through it and took part in the team’s conditioning test last Thursday before going to the training room to have the medical staff evaluate it.

On Friday, he was placed on the PUP list, meaning he can’t practice until that designation is removed. That could happen after the Vikings’ day off on Tuesday, head coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday.

“It would be a perfect time. I’m just going to stay here, keep getting treatment. I’m not going nowhere,” Munnerlyn said about the players’ day off. “Guys might have the night off and stuff. I’m just going to get treatment so I can get this hammie better and get back out on the field with my teammates.”

Munnerlyn said the training staff is being cautious, but he declared himself ready to go on Monday.

When he does return, there will be a very real competition in front of him. Even when Munnerlyn was healthy during the offseason, Josh Robinson was getting more time at the outside right cornerback spot opposite Xavier Rhodes.

Head coach Mike Zimmer said Munnerlyn might be better suited to play the nickel role, covering slot receivers and contributing more in containing the run of opposing offenses.

“Captain is a quicker, not smarter, but a very instinctive guy over there,” Zimmer said when asked how Munnerlyn makes up for his 5-foot-8, 195-pound size on the outside. “He understands the game more as a veteran than Xavier does right now. But I think his big plus is going to be in the slot, to be honest with you.”

Munnerlyn has a different view, declaring himself as more than just a nickel cornerback.

“No, I’m a starting corner. I’m never going to sell myself short in being just a nickel,” Munnerlyn said. “I feel like I’m a starting corner. I can be that guy on the outside. Yeah, I think it’s a job up for grabs – and if a job’s up for grabs, I’m going to win it.”

Last year, after the Vikings released veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, who also exceled as a nickel cornerback, Josh Robinson was asked to play that role. Robinson tried to acclimate to the various duties entailed with that position, but he has since made no bones about his preference to play outside.

Munnerlyn admits there is a different mentality and skillset needed to play nickel cornerback.

“It’s very different. Inside you’ve got to have patience, you’ve got to be very smart, you’ve got to be physical. You’ve got to be able to bring your big-boy pads and make tackles,” he said. “But on the outside you’ve got a little freedom. You’ve got to be able to break on the ball and be able to play the ball in the air. I feel like I’m good at both of the positions. I can get better in each position.”

Munnerlyn said Robinson is doing a “great job” in camp so far, but Munnerlyn fully intends to compete for the full-time role upon his return to the practice field.

“It’s tough, but I can’t control this hamstring. I wish I could,” he said. “It’s tough, but I know when I come back out I’m going to compete and be competitive and do my job.”

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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