Munnerlyn’s role wasn’t what was expected

Captain Munnerlyn admitted to a disappointing season, but his role ended up being more than the Vikings expected.

Captain Munnerlyn entered his first season with the Minnesota Vikings, and his sixth in the NFL, looking to become a starter and a mentor in the defensive backfield.

He got both of those roles, but the season didn’t exactly go the way he or management envisioned.

Munnerlyn finished fifth on the team with 69 tackles and third with two interceptions, but his season was filled with plenty of challenges.

“I’m definitely below my expectations. On the field I feel like I didn’t play well at all,” he said. “I feel like it’s one of my worst years of football. At the same time, I feel like I helped a lot of guys being that leader in the secondary. I think we finished seventh (in pass defense) – that’s a big difference from last year even though I didn’t play my best football. You put in that I played my best football, we might be No. 1. So, it was just some stuff I got to evaluate, study a little bit more in the offseason and get myself ready for next year.”

While Munnerlyn was expected to be the No. 1 cornerback, that role actually developed for Xavier Rhodes, who showed tremendous improvement in his play and his confidence. Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson entered the 2014 offseason program expecting to compete for the starting role opposite Rhodes, but both of them dealt with nagging training camp injuries.

Once he was healthy in the preseason, Munnerlyn said there wasn’t any question in his mind that he was the starter. However, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman revealed a different line of thinking this week when talking about the secondary.

“We signed Captain as a nickel and he ended up having to be a full-time starter for us,” Spielman said. “I thought he had some struggles this year, but I think he has the potential.”

Munnerlyn ended up playing 98 percent of the defensive snaps, more than any other cornerback on the team.

Spielman said sometimes free agents enter a new system and don’t always have a truly impactful first season while learning a new scheme, but then in the second year start to take off. He cited the case of former free agent tight Visanthe Shiancoe and is hopeful Munnerlyn can have a breakout year in 2015 after learning Mike Zimmer’s defensive system.

“Sometimes you expect some things right away from those UFAs, but also sometimes those guys will take a potential year to understand what’s being asked of them,” Spielman said. “I know Captain stated he was disappointed in his year and everybody expects him to play at a higher level next year.”

Zimmer indicated a few times during the season that Munnerlyn would have his own way of doing things and that didn’t also follow Zimmer’s wishes. Munnerlyn said it wasn’t that he didn’t listen, but he said he “tried to make a couple plays my way and sometimes it didn’t work.”

“Make more plays on the ball and listen to coach Zim more,” Munnerlyn said when asked what he wanted to do better in 2015. “Try to stay on top of receivers and force them to throw underneath throws and make tackles immediately. But at the same time, it was new to me. It was a new system to me and new coaching staff, new teammates, but it’s no excuse. I’m a pro so I got to adjust on the fly. So next year I think I guarantee I have a better year.”

Munnerlyn said he is “sure” he will be back in 2015, and that’s very likely the case for at least another year. His salary cap number increases by $500,000, to $3.83 million in 2015, but his veteran experience should remain important as the secondary, and the defense as a whole, transitions.

Still, he knows all about the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league.

“I just got to have more production next year. That’s what the league about, it’s about production,” he said. “If you’re not producing, it’s hard to pay somebody that’s not producing. So I just got to evaluate my situation, in the offseason work even harder and come back ready.”

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