In their short partnership together in Minnesota, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have forged a compromise of sorts when it comes to assembling the team’s roster.
“I get one old guy,” Zimmer has said he likes to tell Spielman, “and you get one little guy.”
Zimmer used his “old guy” allowance this year on 37-year-old cornerback Terence Newman, one of the coach’s most trusted pupils over the years, to bring some stability and veteran leadership to a young secondary.
Newman has rewarded that faith by providing more than just guidance and wisdom. He intercepted two passes in Minnesota’s victory over Oakland on Sunday, including a late one in the end zone, to earn NFC defensive player of the week honors.
“Terence hasn’t lost a beat,” Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “I told him he’s getting better with age. He’s going out there and competing at a very high level. He’s been a team leader, especially on the back end. He’s helping guys out a lot. He’s known this scheme forever. He knows the ins and outs of it. He’s like a coach back there.”
Newman, who was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, played for Zimmer when he was a defensive coordinator in Cincinnati in 2012 and 2013 and in Dallas from 2003-06. He is intimately aware of Zimmer’s scheme and his demands, and how they allow a defensive back to flourish.
“He plays good. He’s consistent. He’s a great competitor and I’ve said this a lot about my football players, he’s very good football player, but he’s an even better person,” Zimmer said. “He helps a lot of young guys.”
Playing opposite third-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Newman has allowed the Vikings to bring along first-round draft pick Trae Waynes more gradually and not force him into action too soon. Newman still struggles from time to time in one-on-one coverage against speedy young receivers deep down the field, but his feel for the defense, his sense of timing and his ability to tackle help him atone for a lost step here or there.
The key play of the day against the Raiders came with the Vikings leading 23-14 and Oakland driving in the final three minutes. Derek Carr lofted a pass to the end zone and Newman, out on an island in one-on-one coverage, leaped, tipped the ball in the air and came down with the interception.
The play put Newman into elite company, joining Deion Sanders as the only defensive backs in league history to have multiple interceptions in a game at 37 or older. It also set up Adrian Peterson’s 80-yard touchdown run that sealed the victory.
The win, coupled with NFC North rival Green Bay’s third straight defeat, catapulted the Vikings (7-2) into first place in the division and set up a showdown with the Packers (6-3) at home this weekend.
“He’s a great player,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Newman. “Always had a ton of respect for him and his game. He’s a willing tackler, solid cover guy. Trusts his instincts. Has good short- and long-range speed. Obviously excellent ball skills. He’s a talented, talented guy.”