Captain’s competition more personal this week

Captain Munnerlyn is looking forward to playing his former team on Sunday, even if it is a somewhat different crew than what he left.

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn has a balancing act this week. The former Carolina Panthers cornerback can offer some advice about his former team to his new team, but there are potential flaws with that tactic.

The Panthers aren’t the same team that Munnerlyn left when he joined the Vikings as a free agent in March, and the Panthers always have the option of changing things up.

Some coaches downplay the benefits of having a player offer tips on his old team.

“It definitely helps, but I’m also kind of nervous that they might change everything up because they know I know,” Munnerlyn said. “Me being there for five years, they know I know. They might change it, but at the same time I’m sure going to let those guys know the tips and stuff I know.”

But the personnel, especially among the receivers that Munnerlyn and his Vikings secondary will be asked to cover, has changed in Carolina.

Last year, tight end Greg Olsen was the leading receiver with 816 yards, followed by Steve Smith at 745, Brandon LaFell at 627 and Ted Ginn at 556.

This year, Smith is in Baltimore, Ginn is in Arizona, LaFell is in New England, and rookie Kelvin Benjamin has emerged as the go-to receiver in Carolina with 768 yards, followed by Olsen with 719 yards and Jerricho Cotchery with 433.

“I really don’t know much about those guys right now,” Munnerlyn admitted. “I know the big boy from Florida State (Benjamin), he’s balling. I know he’s got like eight or nine touchdowns already. He’s a rookie and he’s came in and he’s doing some great things. I’ve got to study some film on those guys and get better.”

Benjamin has eight touchdowns and Olsen five. No other Panther has more than one receiving touchdown. Still, Munnerlyn’s advice is one that should be obvious.

“Stop Cam Newton,” he said. “No, we’ve just got to go out there and execute our own game plan. Show them different looks and execute. That’s the tips I can give the guys. I’m sure I know some of their tips on offense and stuff and I’m going to make sure I give the defensive backs the tips, and the linebackers and the D-line.”

Newton has completed only 58.6 percent of his passes and has an 80.3 passer rating, but he has run hot and cold the last two games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons. In those two games, he has thrown for 598 combined years and four touchdowns, but those two games also account for five of his 10 interceptions on the season.

Munnerlyn said Panthers fans on Twitter have already started chirping at him, but his smile said it all when asked for his thoughts on playing his former team.

“I’m excited about it,” Munnerlyn said. “At the same time, I’m just going to go into the game like I always go into the game. I’m sure I’ll be a little edgy, a little chippy. But at the same time, I’m just ready to play.”

Munnerlyn spent five seasons with the Panthers after they made him a seventh-round draft pick out of South Carolina in 2009. He started 50 of 77 games and intercepted seven passes, returning five of them for touchdowns – tied for the NFL lead in interception returns for touchdowns since 2010.

He said leaving the Panthers for a three-year, $11.25 million contract with the Vikings in March was difficult.

“I was there five years and that’s the organization that gave me the chance to take my game to the next level. They came in the seventh round and drafted little old Captain Munnerlyn and gave me a chance go out there and play,” he said. “I’m very thankful for that organization for allowing me to take that opportunity, but, hey, I’m a Minnesota Viking now. They took my career to the next level. Now I’m ready to just go out there and compete and ready to play.”

Munnerlyn has been a workhorse for the Vikings secondary. He has started every game and played over 700 snaps. He has more than twice as many NFL games played (88) as any other Vikings defensive back and twice as many starts (61) as everyone else except for Harrison Smith.

Once he got acclimated to a new scheme in head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, Munnerlyn has been playing well of late.

“I started off a little slow trying to feel everybody out, feel the defense out. But at the same time I feel like I’m getting better each and every week, feeling this cornerback role/nickel role,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting better each and every week. The Vikings, man, I just really appreciate Coach Zim giving me the opportunity just to go out there and play football. I love this game of football so I just appreciate that and I’m just trying to go out there and compete.”

Only this week, the competition will be a little more personal.


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