If speed kills, the Minnesota Vikings are hoping to be serial speedsters this year.
Three of the fastest players on the team were acquired during the offseason – wide receiver Mike Wallace in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, cornerback Trae Waynes in the first round of the draft, and cornerback Terence Newman on the free-agent market.
The Vikings’ draft tendency toward speed was obvious, taking Waynes in the first round, a linebacker with range in Eric Kendricks in the second round, third-round defensive end Danielle Hunter, fifth-round receiver Stefon Diggs and then keeping seventh-round linebacker Edmond Robinson on the active roster over sixth-round picks on the offensive and defensive lines.
The offense hasn’t truly unveiled their deep-ball possibilities in the preseason, with only a 39-yard pass to Wallace from the starters, but it’s there, waiting to be unveiled at some point in the coming weeks. Just ask some of the Vikings’ defensive backs trying to keep up.
Wallace was the consensus fastest man on the offense when we asked offensive and defensive players for their top speed demons on each unit. Jarius Wright, Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson were all part of the top-three rankings from teammates, and even Charles Johnson got a mention.
“Oh, they’ve got a relay team. You got to go Mike Wallace,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said when asked about the offense’s speed. “You’ve got to put Adrian up there. He still can roll. You’ve got to go with C.P., J-Wright. Charles. It’s just unbelievable how much speed they’ve got on the offensive side of the ball. It’s kind of crazy, but they’ve got a lot of speed over there.”
Running back Jerick McKinnon tried to find a way to fit himself into the discussion on the fleetest afoot on offense, quickly answering “me, myself and I,” but even he admitted it’s Wallace and then a debate on the second and third levels.
Adam Thielen gave it to Wallace, too, then Wright and Peterson, which was a pretty common ranking among both offensive and defensive players taking the quiz.
But while Wallace was the consensus on offense, rookie Waynes won the vote on defense. Another popular mention was the now-37-year-old Newman.
“You won’t believe this one. One is Trae, but I would say two would be … [pauses to think] … would be old man T-Newman,” Xavier Rhodes said. “It’s surprising, huh? Still running.”
How does Newman still do it after turning 37 on Sept. 4?
“I just think it’s good genes. He takes care of his body, works out really hard,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s very smart, that helps. He’s seen a lot of stuff. He understands what I’m trying to teach. He had all of the (defensive backs) stay after (Friday) and watch 30 minutes of extra tape – those kind of things that he knows, he helps with these other guys. But he’s not here to be a coach, he’s here to be a player, but those kind of things help young guys understand what it means to be a professional.”
Newman, of course, has maintained there is a secret elixir for his fountain of youth whenever he is asked questions suggesting his old-man status.
“He said red wine, so I went and bought me a bottle, a couple bottles,” Munnerlyn joked. “I don’t know. He was a track guy; I found that out by getting to know him. He ran track in college. You look at some of the times, he was fast. He ran 10.2, 10.1. He takes care of his body. To be 37 years old and still doing it, that’s a blessing.”
Of course, several defensive backs fit into the equation after Waynes. Rhodes was one, Munnerlyn another, and even Marcus Sherels.
“Of course, I’m in the top three,” Rhodes said. “I’m going to be realistic, now, Trae’s pretty fast. He’s got the juice.”
McKinnon gave a nod to a defensive lineman, too – Everson Griffen. “Everson can move,” McKinnon attested.
McKinnon stood alone, however, in trying to suggest that Sherels is fast enough to rival Waynes. All others quickly gave the lead-dog nod to Waynes.
But, as Zimmer pointed out, a cornerback’s success isn’t anointed by speed on a stopwatch.
“They’re fast. You want fast corners, but they have to be able to get in and out of breaks because if they’re straight-line fast and they can’t break, the ball gets there before they can break,” Zimmer said. “There is a combination of that, too.”
Munnerlyn, like nearly everyone else, had Waynes on top of his speed leaderboard on defense, but, like Rhodes, Munnerlyn felt he deserved consideration, just as Thielen suggested.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can run. Trae Waynes, I think he might be the fastest out of everybody. But everybody else is just a toss-up,” Munnerlyn said. “If you’re talking 40-yard dash, you can put me up there because I can run the 40, but after that I might be a little tired.”
Waynes isn’t a starter yet as he works through the process of honing his technique, but the occasional downfield battles with Wallace in the offseason and training camp made it clear that both can fly. That’s one reason the Vikings drafted Waynes, and a clear reason the Vikings traded for Wallace and his $9.9 million salary-cap number and released veteran Greg Jennings shortly thereafter.
Speed isn’t the deciding factor for success, but it certainly helps. And it’s one of the reasons Munnerlyn has big expectations for the offense after facing off against that unit throughout the offseason practices.
“I’m going to expect them to go out there and dominate and be the best offense in the NFL because we’ve got the weapons. There’s no excuses,” Munnerlyn said. “… Everybody’s ready to roll. It’s Teddy (Bridgewater’s) second year in the system. He’s looked calm. He looked cool during the preseason, putting up good numbers. So I’m excited, and when you get 28 back, that’s a definite plus. It’s going to be a very special year for us.”