When Trae Waynes was drafted, all the physical attributes were well-known.
Waynes was clocked running a 4.31-second 40-yard dash (hand-timed at 4.23), the fasted among defensive backs at the NFL Scouting Combine. He added a 4.39 in the 20-yard shuttle, 7.08 in the three-cone drill, a 38-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-2 broad jump.
The Minnesota Vikings did their research on him off the field, too, and he was considered a glove fit for Mike Zimmer’s defense, but what was the feeling on Waynes after going through rookie minicamp, 10 organized team activities and the full-team minicamp?
“He’s got all the tools. He’s tall. He’s fast. I mess with him a lot about being skinny because he is, he’s skinny,” veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “But he’s got all the tools. He’s smart. I think he’s got an opportunity to be a great player.”
Still, Waynes wasn’t running much with the first-team base defense in minicamp, despite Munnerlyn, last year’s starter at left cornerback, being out with a foot injury. The starting job at minicamp belonged to a player with even more experience than Munnerlyn – the Zimmer-tested Terence Newman.
Instead, Waynes was running with the second-team defense and getting some occasional reps as a first-team nickel cornerback.
“He’s doing a lot more things right now. We’re asking him to do a lot of different positions, play a lot of different coverages that he didn’t have to do in the rookie minicamp,” Zimmer said. “But as far as technically, he’s improved in his transition out of the breaks quite well. I think he’s starting to understand things better. Because we are playing him in a few different places, he’s still sometimes unsure of what he’s supposed to do and where he’s supposed to be at, but I like him.”
Whether he starts or not, the first-round draft pick should see a contributing role in his rookie season. Last year, Munnerlyn, Rhodes and Josh Robinson, who isn’t likely to practice at the outset of training camp with a pectoral injury, all made starts, and then-rookie Jabari Price played in 46 defensive snaps.
Waynes could win the starting left cornerback spot by the regular season or see time as a nickel back, or he could simply be a reserve at the ready.
“We’ve thrown a lot at Trae this offseason, lots of different positions, to see his skill sets and see what he can handle. And the big thing is him being able to transfer those things once we get to training camp, to be able to be more consistent with the techniques and fundamentals and the calls and communication and all those things we’re asking him to do,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “So, from that aspect of it, we like where he’s at right now. We know he has a lot of work to do. He has a good skill set (and we’re) trying to see the different ways we can use it.”
Waynes is most comfortable in press coverage that is used so often in Zimmer’s defense, but not all the techniques are consistent from one defense to another. Waynes will have a learning curve, but Newman experienced them himself when he entered the league with Zimmer as his defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think he’s going to be really good. Obviously it’s early. You’re going to have growing pains. It happens to every DB as a rookie, but I think he’s got a very high ceiling,” Newman said. “Very talented, and he’s capable of doing a lot of things. He’s learning the slot. Obviously he can play corner. Great change of direction, great speed and he’s got great length. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”
Newman said he can help Waynes with “probably everything other than the speed and change of direction.” Waynes has the speed to burn, but refining technique at an early age is the key to his early success.
So far, he’s been tested with plenty. Eventually, coaches will settle on his strengths and find a role for him.
“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 … he’s got a lot on his plate and (we’ll) see kind of what he can digest.”
What’s the expectation with Waynes?
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