At the end of the 2013 season, the Minnesota Vikings pass defense was ranked 31st in the league. Now, just over halfway through the 2014 season, the Vikings have made a huge improvement and are ranked fourth in the NFL in pass defense – and that’s with going against some of the league’s best quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
A big reason towards rise in the rankings is the improved play of the defensive secondary. A change in scheme has been implemented by head coach Mike Zimmer, which has helped. Zimmer also seems to focus on the secondary more than any other position. Or, it could just be the fact that the secondary is more experienced now than it was a year ago.
One thing – or one person – that has helped the secondary grow and get more experience is the Vikings new cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn joined the Vikings as a free agent from Carolina in the offseason and, even though he is only 26 years old, he is considered to be the old man in the secondary.
“I’ve played a lot of football games and got a lot of experience,” said Munnerlyn. “But some of the young guys, they come out and they ask me questions. They look up to me, so I’m fine with being the old guy in the secondary.”
Not only is he there to answer questions that some of the younger players have, but he is also there to help them on the field, and often the way that Munnerlyn plays gives the young players confidence, and if the young players make a mistake, Munnerlyn will let them know.
“He’s a guy that has been (in the NFL) for a couple of years, and he has knowledge of a lot of things,” said Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson. “He has that experienced game-time play, so he is definitely able to give us confidence in there.
“Captain is a vocal guy. He’s the guy that will let you know, ‘That wasn’t me, that was you. So get it right.’ And that’s OK. It helps you know, OK, I got to do my job because he’s going to point out if you don’t, and I’m fine with that.”
It is clear when talking to the younger players in the secondary that Munnerlyn has made a big impact on them and their play. He knows he is one of the leaders in that secondary, but says that the young players are so talented that he is often trying to keep up with their play during the games.
“They’ve stepped up their game, they’ve stepped up their game tremendously,” Munnerlyn said. “I try to put my game on those guys’ level. I talk to Josh and Xavier (Rhodes) and Harrison (Smith) and (Robert) Blanton all the time, and it’s like, ‘Man, you guys all playing your butts off. I’m trying to get to ya’ll level, you know, get the defense down, and come out here and play high level like ya’ll guys is.’”
Even though Munnerlyn has been an important piece to the development of the young secondary, there is probably another person on the team that is even more crucial to it, and that would be the head coach.
Zimmer has always worked with defensive backs since he entered the NFL as a coach, and from the beginning he has stressed the importance of the secondary.
“He said we’re his babies,” Munnerlyn said. “But he’s been coaching (defensive backs) his entire career, and as a defensive coordinator when he was in Cincinnati, he still worked with the DBs.
“I love when your head coach will be big on defensive backs and I play that position, so he looks at us and he’s tougher on us, you know, he’s harder on us, and that’s what I need. I love the coaching like that.”
That tough mentality is exactly what the secondary, and the defense as a whole, seemingly needed after the gentle-natured Leslie Frazier left Minnesota. That’s just who Zimmer is, a hard-nosed guy that is not going to let his players get away with anything.
That is more than OK with his players. In fact, they like it, and would not want to have it any other way.
“Each and every day we come out here and practice and we’re not getting the job done and making the same mistakes he’s going to let you know what we need to do,” said Munnerlyn. “And Coach Zim, he’s just tough on us, and we love it.”
Secondary finds a couple tough self-critics
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