Even before the opening kickoff of the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 3 matchup against the San Diego Chargers, cornerback Trae Waynes knew it was going to be a special game. He had the opportunity to play against one of his best friends and high school teammate, running back Melvin Gordon, and the two players had a lot of family and friends make the trip to TCF Bank Stadium to see them play.
Gordon is the Chargers’ starting running back so he sees the field on a regular basis week in and week out, but that is not the case for Waynes. He has not been able to see the field as often, despite being a first-round draft pick like Gordon. Instead, he has been primarily working on special teams and learning behind Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes.
That all changed this Sunday, however, as Waynes was forced to play a big role for the Vikings defense when Rhodes left the game with a head injury in the second quarter.
When he first took the field, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers went right after him, targeting him multiple times, but Waynes played his receivers well and did his job.
“They say veteran quarterbacks will go after rookies until you stand up for yourself and that’s what I tried to do,” Waynes said.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was pleased with the way his rookie cornerback played, except for one play he feels as though Waynes could have done better.
“I thought he did good,” Zimmer said. “He made some good plays. They went at him early, the first play of the half and threw a stop route on him. He made the tackle. He did some good things in tackling today. I can remember one play he could’ve been better on, but other than that I think it was a good first deal. I saw him in the locker room at halftime, I said, ‘Hey, 26, it’s your time now. Let’s go.’ So we have confidence in him. I’ve been saying he’s been getting better each week. I told somebody this week I think Trae has a chance to play some. I didn’t think it would be under these circumstances, but I thought he’d be getting closer to playing.”
Zimmer never specified which play he thought Waynes could have done better, but there was one that the cornerback wishes would have gone different. In the fourth quarter Waynes had a chance to record his first interception in the NFL but wasn’t able to hold onto the ball.
The receiver was running a deep post route down the middle of the field and the ball seemed to sail just over his fingertips. Waynes was then able to go up and get both hands on the ball but now come down with it.
“Yeah, I’m going to see it for awhile,” the rookie said when asked if he’ll be seeing that play in his dreams tonight. “But, you know, on to the next week so I have to move on.”
Waynes is usually very confident in his abilities, so there likely weren’t too many nerves when he first took the field. But his teammates still wanted to make sure he was ready and gave him some advice during the team’s halftime break.
“I just told him to relax,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “We knew when we came into halftime that he was going to have to go out there and play some football. I told him to relax and get ready to play. Just do what you have been doing and that’s been working hard and competing.”
It is still unclear whether or not Rhodes will be able to play next Sunday when the Vikings take on the Denver Broncos, but he was being evaluated for a possible concussion. If Rhodes can’t play next Sunday, Waynes likely will get the first start of his NFL career and his performance against the Chargers.