Newman may be new to the Vikings, but he’s spent much of his career with Zimmer. When the Dallas Cowboys made Newman the fifth pick of the 2003 draft, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator and the two were together for four seasons. When Zimmer moved on to Cincinnati and Newman was available in free agency, the two were reunited.
It would seem that the NFL circle of life keeps finding ways to keep the two of them together, as Newman once again arrives to a team in which Zimmer in entrenched.
The biggest difference in the minds of many is that Newman will turn 37 this year. That aren’t that many 37-year-olds at any position, much less one as physically demanding and based on speed as cornerback. But Newman has been defying the odds for the last several years of being on the proverbial “wrong side of 30” and doesn’t see the challenges of coming to the Vikings as an elder statesman of the league as being unique to his position or at his age.
“It’s no different than the challenges of anybody else,” Newman said. “You try to stay healthy and you try to play good football. I don’t see me being 37 as like a deal where I’ve got to do this or do that. You’ve got to stay healthy and you’ve got to take care of your body and ultimately you play good football.”
Newman’s game has evolved over the years as he has transformed from relying on pure athleticism to get the job done to becoming a savvy veteran who makes plays because there isn’t much that happens on a football field that hasn’t taken place before in his 12 NFL seasons.
While his role in the defenses he has played for have changed, his goals remain constant – whether they were goals he had when he came into the league with Dallas in 2003 or the ones he has as a Viking in 2015.
“They always stay the same, really,” Newman said. “You want to make the football team. You want to be a leader and help lead and set an example by the way you go to work and ultimately win a Super Bowl. That’s the goal of everybody. So like a personal goal would be to lead the division or the league in interceptions for me, but the goals don’t really ever change. You can still work and get better each and every day, and that’s my goal.”
His familiarity with the Zimmer defense was one of his selling points in coming to the Vikings, bucking an organizational trend of bringing in younger players and getting rid of highly-paid veterans after they reach the age of 30.
Newman doesn’t view his role on the team as being one of teaching the defense to his teammates, but it’s pointing out the little nuances – a “pay-it-forward” mantra that has been a part of the NFL forever. The biggest plays can be made by knowing your assignment before the snap and letting the game come naturally. It isn’t something that is always easy to teach, but Newman had veterans on the Cowboys that helped him learn the ropes and he hopes to do the same for the young Vikings defensive backs getting accustomed to the Zimmer defensive scheme.
“It’s all relative,” Newman said. “I think people make it out to be more complicated than it is. You have to pick up on certain things and that’s what I’m looking to help the younger guys with. Usually, it’s just little things – your assignment on that particular play and getting in the right position. When I was a young player, we had guys that helped me out and I want to do the same here – pass along what I know and help make these younger guys better players.”
One of the main reasons the Vikings hired Zimmer was his long track record of defensive success. In short, his scheme works and it has been proven successful over time. Even in his first year with the Vikings, the second half of the season saw the defense improve by leaps and bounds and Newman is no stranger to that success.
He saw it work in Dallas. He saw it work in Cincinnati. He sees it working in Minnesota. When the players and the coaches are on the same page, good things happen and the key to success is getting all the component parts working as one.
“I think it’s all the pieces,” Newman said. “It’s no different than you’ve got these machines that put these computers together. Each part has to do its job for the computer to work overall, so it’s no different here. That’s the best analogy I can give you. Every part has to click. You’ve got to stop the run, force them to pass and put them in passing situations, and obviously Zim is probably one of the best at dialing up calls and knowing what the opposing offense is going to do. So he gets a lot of credit and he should get a lot of credit, as well as the position coaches getting guys ready to do their job.”
As to what the 2015 season holds for Newman is still very much up in the air. If the Vikings use their first-round draft pick, as many draft analysts have opined, on Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, Newman may be little more than a role player if Waynes hits the ground running. If the Vikings don’t bring in a young corner with a high draft selection, he may be on the field much more.
Just as the fans don’t know what Newman’s role will be, he isn’t sure himself. But, regardless of whether it’s from being a player who is on the field for a dozen or so plays a game or as a full-time core member of the defense, he’s prepared for what is coming and will be ready for his third stint as an operating component part of a Mike Zimmer-led defense.
“I don’t know what my role is going to be exactly,” Newman said. “My goal is to get on the field as much as possible and help the younger guys who may be new to the system or still learning it what different plays call for. I don’t know if I would say I’m a mentor, but I feel I can help the team by being one of those guys who works with the younger guys in film study and in practice to help them elevate their game. If that’s what they want from me, I’m willing to do it because that’s what will help make our team better.”