Waynes knows expectations, has uphill climb

Even before his rough outing in the preseason opener, Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes admitted he has a long way to go.

Trae Waynes understands the NFL business. It doesn’t get much bigger for expectations than being a first-round draft pick.

Waynes didn’t have a strong outing for the Minnesota Vikings Sunday night in the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he knew expectations would be placed on him.

“I know there’s a lot of expectations, but my thing is just show that I can hang out with these guys and compete and don’t be a weak link,” he said last week with his first preseason game looming.

Turns out, he stood out like sore thumb in a defense that generally did a solid job against the Steelers’ second- and third-team offense. Head coach Mike Zimmer wanted to see Waynes compete, too, and that’s why Zimmer stuck with Waynes even when he was struggling.

“I wanted him to find out what kind of toughness he has when things like that happen and you have a couple penalties on you,” Zimmer said. “How are you going to fight back? How are you going to respond? I thought he did a nice job with those things. He’s just got to learn some of the technical things about the NFL. But athletically and the type of kid he is, he’s going to be fine.”

By the third quarter, NBC flashed a graphic that Waynes had given up four catches on six targets for 58 yards. There was another 8-yarder tacked on in the fourth quarter.

But it wasn’t just the receptions given up that dogged the first-round pick. It was the penalties. There were three of them on him, and no other Viking had more than one.

Waynes played in 54 of the 66 defensive snaps, part of the Zimmer plan to play him through adversity. Only defensive end Danielle Hunter (62) played more for the Vikings. Waynes had three penalties – two defensive holding calls and one pass interference – accounting for 43 yards.

But asked how much influence Zimmer has had in molding Waynes, he left little doubt how hands-on Zimmer has been and how much work there is left to accomplish.

“Quite a bit, but it’s not even close to being done yet. I know there’s a lot more to go,” Waynes said. “He’s constantly coaching me, so we’ll see what the finished product looks like.”

Waynes portrays the confidence that most people search for in a cornerback, but some of that had to have been knocked loose a bit with his performance Sunday night. There’s plenty of time to gain it back in the preseason. That’s the saving grace of five preseason games, but he hasn’t faced any of the top receivers or quarterbacks yet – Antonio Brown was held out of the game, as was Ben Roethlisberger.

Last week, he figured he would be nervous heading into his first NFL action but thought that would be a good thing.

What is good news is that the Vikings have plenty of talent ahead of him, meaning they don’t have to force the issue. The acquisition of veteran Terence Newman means Waynes doesn’t have be relied upon to start opposite Xavier Rhodes. He might not even have to be a nickel cornerback with Captain Munnerlyn around.

Fortunately for him and the Vikings, there is time and plenty of potential mentors, including Newman, who said he has seen every route in the NFL. Asked how many routes he has seen in training camp, Waynes gave a tip of the cap to his inexperience and Newman’s veteran savvy.

“Not even half. Just watching T-New, he’s running routes before the receivers do,” Waynes said. “so I just hope one day I can be on that level.”

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