Since 2009, Vikings cornerbacks have the third-fewest interceptions in the NFL at that position, and 2014 was only a minimal increase from 2013, which was only slightly better than 2012.
In fact, when comparing only the cornerback position over the last six years, the Vikings have only 29 interceptions from them while division rivals like the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears sit atop the NFL rankings in that category with more than double the amount of the Vikings.
Green Bay tied the Philadelphia Eagles for the league lead in interceptions by cornerbacks last year with 16, the same amount of picks by Vikings cornerbacks over the last three years combined. And Green Bay’s 72 interceptions by their cornerbacks over the last six years lead the league over that time period.
The Bears are second over that timeframe with 62, including nine last year.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and his group of returning defenders believe they are more comfortable in the system that Zimmer implemented last year, which produced a one-interception increase from his cornerbacks last year compared to 2013.
“I think everybody’s a lot more comfortable in their roles right now. We seem to be playing faster and not thinking quite as much,” Zimmer said at the conclusion of minicamp last month. “Defensively, we actually had a couple of things in this week that were difficult and they handled it very well. That was good to see.”
Despite the Vikings overall and specifically the defense receiving praise for their improvement in 2014, Zimmer said during February’s NFL Scouting Combine that he couldn’t wait for the players to return so he could show them everything that went wrong in 2014 and how a play here or there could have produced a different result.
But personnel and injuries were also part of the problem, which is why the Vikings invested heavily in the cornerback position this offseason.
They signed Terence Newman, a veteran of Zimmer’s scheme, to a one-year, $2.25 million contract that has $750,000 guaranteed. A month after signing Newman, they also selected cornerback Trae Waynes in the first round of the draft.
With Captain Munnerlyn, one of their top free-agent signings in 2014, injured during much of organized team activities and training camp this spring, Newman was the starter opposite Xavier Rhodes while Waynes and Jabari Price served in the nickel role. Waynes was used mostly on the second team in the base defense while he continues to acclimate to the new defensive concepts.
“I think every guy is different, to what they have been exposed to in college to coming in and what you’re asking them to do, and we moved them around to a lot of different positions and those kind of things,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said when asked how long it takes a rookie like Waynes to get comfortable. “We’re trying to put a lot on his plate to see how much he can handle and carry over, so from that aspect of it – he was exposed to really only playing the outside in college and were putting him a little bit everywhere this offseason. So from that aspect of it, he’s got a lot on his plate and (we will) see kind of what he can digest.”
Waynes has impressed with his speed, and before the draft he was recognized as the top cornerback available and one that was adept at press coverage, what the Vikings call for often in Zimmer’s scheme.
But there will be an acclimation process, as the veteran Newman can attest.
“I think he’s going to be really good. Obviously it’s early. You’re going to have growing pains,” Newman said of Waynes. “It happens to every (defensive back) as a rookie, but I think he’s got a very high ceiling. Very talented, and he’s capable of doing a lot of things.”
Last year, it was safety Harrison Smith that led the Vikings with five interceptions. Josh Robinson, who now has a partially torn pectoral muscle, was next and led the cornerbacks with three interceptions while Munnerlyn had two and Rhodes just one.
CORNERBACK INTERCEPTIONS SINCE 2009
|New York Giants||9||5||6||11||9||8||48|
|New York Jets||4||6||7||10||6||10||43|