A year ago at this time, Munnerlyn was a name that was being whispered as a player who may not have a lock on a roster spot, whether that thinking was ever realistic or not. By his own admission, he had what he felt was his worst season as a starter. From that point until well into training camp, Munnerlyn’s name was often the answer when the question was asked about who might be a surprise cut.
But they don’t call Mike Zimmer “the cornerback whisperer” for nothing.
He knows what he’s doing. At times, it takes players to begrudgingly conform to his teachings. That’s why he whispers (sometimes).
Munnerlyn was approached during the OTA period and told it would be in his best interest just to be a slot cornerback. He didn’t like what he heard, but Zimmer isn’t the type who puts a spin on things. He tells it like it is.
“He’s Zim, man, he’s up front and he’s honest,” Munnerlyn said. “That’s one thing you can say about this guy. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything. He’s an honest guy. You can’t do nothing but respect him.”
Zimmer wanted to have Munnerlyn specialize. He had resisted change in their first season together, but Munnerlyn could tell that things weren’t going right and change was needed.
“Last year, I was out of position too often because what I was doing was different from what the scheme called for,” Munnerlyn said. “I was doing things from what I had learned in the past and was taught that things are different in this scheme and I needed to embrace that.”
Embracing a reduced role didn’t come easily for Munnerlyn. He had been a full-time player for years and the thought of becoming a specialist wasn’t something he envisioned or wanted.
“It was a tough pill to swallow for me,” Munnerlyn said. “I wasn’t ready to just be a nickel back. I’m a starter. I’ve been a starter in this league for five years in a row. My role got reduced to just being a nickel. I wasn’t ready to give it up. I had to swallow that pride and do the best thing for this team. It wasn’t just about the best thing for me. It was about this team. If I can help this team just being a nickel back, I’m all for it.”
While his role on the field was transforming, one thing that didn’t change was his role in the locker room. Munnerlyn has always viewed himself as a team leader and it isn’t something that is labeled on a player. Either you have leadership qualities or you don’t.
Nobody tells a defensive player to be a leader. It’s something that comes out organically and Munnerlyn has effectively had that quality since birth.
“It just happens,” Munnerlyn said. “My mama named me Captain, so it started early. I’ve always been a guy that has tried to lead the way. I’ve never been a follower guy. I just to lead and be my own person. I’ve got big shoulders. If anything goes wrong, I can put it on my shoulders – I tell the guys that all the time. If something goes wrong on a check I made, put it on me. I can take it.”
Munnerlyn enters this offseason with a better understanding of his role in Zimmer’s defense. He knows the ins and outs of the scheme and his role within it. The Vikings are a young team on the rise and he’s looking forward to coming back next season and be the best player he can be.
Along the way comes the leadership component of the game. He is quick to tell the younger defensive players that they should enjoy what they accomplished this season, but, at the same time, not to get complacent. Making the playoffs is difficult and taking their game to a higher level is even more daunting. But he’s convinced the Vikings are going to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender and the adversity they faced in 2015 could be the impetus to make themselves better in 2016.
“It’s like I told some of the young guys – it’s not easy to get where we got,” Munnerlyn said. “You’ve got to take that and learn from it. If we get to that point next year, you don’t want to go home. I’ve been in the league for a long time and too many times I’ve been (eliminated from) the playoffs like that. You definitely have to take this, learn from it and get better.”
- Former Viking Robert Smith announced that he is leaving ESPN after spending 11 years with the organization as a college football analyst. Smith broke the news Thursday on his Twitter account.
- If the Patriots win Sunday at Denver, the Super Bowl will be Tom Brady’s 32nd postseason game – two full seasons in the postseason as a starting QB – a total that may never be touched.
- Former Viking Jared Allen has officially been ruled out of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. The Carolina defensive end has a broken bone in right foot.