Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph was one of the team’s big offseason acquisitions a year ago that has showed impressive improvement this season. Head coach Mike Zimmer continues to rave about what a good job Joseph does on the field and he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his performance against the St. Louis Rams.
One of the team’s other offseason acquisitions from a year ago that has also stepped up his play this year, but doesn’t seem to be getting quite the recognition Joseph is, is Captain Munnerlyn. The cornerback admitted after the season last year that he did not play to the level he expects from himself and that he was going to get himself ready in the offseason for this season.
“I’m definitely below my expectations,” he said after the season last year. “On the field I feel like I didn’t play well at all. I feel like it’s one of my worst years of football.”
It seems as though all the work he put into the offseason is paying off, as he is playing at an high level and was rated as the No. 7 cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus on Monday. This is the level he originally expected from himself and the new level of play seems to be coming from his increased comfort in Zimmer’s system.
“You know your teammates, you know the scheme, you know the system and it’s Year 2 in it,” Munnerlyn said. “You’re always better in Year 2, I think, than Year 1 with things. We just understand what Coach Zim wants from us. We’re going out there, competing at a very high level, and I’m going out there trying to make plays and doing my job.”
Munnerlyn explained that changing teams after multiple years in the NFL is sort of like redoing your rookie year, but more difficult. When a player is a rookie coming into the NFL, they know that there are multiple things they are going to have to learn and work on, such as not being allowed to touch wide receivers after five yards.
But when veteran players who have been in the NFL for five years, like Munnerlyn was in Carolina, switch teams in free agency new things can be more difficult to learn. Munnerlyn had success doing things a certain way with the Panthers, but the things he was doing did not necessarily work with the defense that Zimmer was trying to run last year.
“I was stuck in ways that I liked to play and things that were successful to me, but I came here and it was different,” he said. “Things that were successful for me in the past didn’t play well in this defense. So I had to a self-check and adjust, and that’s something that I did and I think it’s showing on the field this year.”
Zimmer was trying to teach the veteran cornerback new techniques a year ago, but Munnerlyn would continue to revert back to his old habits during games. That would then cause problems for the defense since the old techniques did not fit into what Zimmer was asking for from his defense.
The two were seemingly on different pages of the script from time to time, as Munnerlyn did not always understand why Zimmer wanted him to do certain things. At 5-foot-9, there are certain things that it doesn’t make sense for Munnerlyn to do just because he is a smaller corner. But in time he learned to trust his head coach and it is really starting to show on the field.
“It was definitely technique issues with me,” he said. “The things he wanted me to do technique-wise and I used to be like, ‘Why you moving me right here? I’m not a bigger guy to play this technique.’ But I just had to buy in and I think I’m buying in this year and I’m locking in.”