The more work Trae Waynes gets, the better he seems to look. He got plenty of work on Thursday and had perhaps the best training camp session he’s seen since joining the Minnesota Vikings as a first-round pick.
With Terence Newman given the day off, Waynes took full advantage of his extended duty with the first-team defense.
His afternoon was highlighted by the first play of a full-team session. Teddy Bridgewater dropped to pass and unloaded an out route intended for Stefon Diggs. Waynes read it well and burst into the passing lane for the interception.
It’s yet another sign of progress for the 2015 first-round pick and his confidence is growing.
“It’s a lot higher, especially my comfortability with the playbook. I think that allows me to play faster with less thinking,” he said.
“Just coming into a new system. After being in the same system with the same playbook for the last four years, just up and changing it, that’s always tough. And then adjusting playing styles and different techniques.”
Despite being a first-round pick, Waynes’ rookie season was mostly one for watching and learning. After a preseason in which head coach Mike Zimmer said he needed to learn to quit grabbing receivers, Waynes was mostly a fill-in for Newman.
Zimmer has been working with Waynes since the outset of his career, correcting an alignment that might be off a half a step before the snap or correcting footwork and technique. It seems those teaching sessions are fewer the more experience Waynes gets.
“I never overload. It’s always a point here or a point there,” Zimmer said. “It’s not like inventing some chemistry stuff. It’s pretty easy.”
But other than quarterback, cornerback might be the toughest position for a rookie to learn. Zimmer is intent on seeing the improvement.
“He’s just coaching. Coaching me on different techniques, how to read and play certain things,” Waynes said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can to take everything he has to say and show it on the field.”
The signs of progress seem to occur daily, and more frequently.
In Wednesday’s practice, he broke on a hitch route by this year’s first-round pick, Laquon Treadwell, and knocked the ball out of the sturdy rookie’s hands.
On Thursday, in addition to his interception, he wrestled the ball away from Adam Thielen before he could secure the catch.
Clearly, the coaches see the progress Waynes has made, too.
“You can’t even put a grade on it,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said about improvements since Waynes’ rookie campaign. “Now he’s not having to think and he’s not having to think about alignments or assignments as much.
“You look at him coming in, it was sort of different than what he did in college. All of a sudden he’s asked to play a little more zone and make different adjustments rather than just lining up and playing man-to-man. Now he doesn’t have to think about those things quite as much. He can line up and play and concentrate on the technique and the fundamental of each call as we go through it.”
Waynes is a quiet guy and Zimmer knows it. But he also said Waynes wants to improve, and prove himself.
“Technically he’s much better than he was. Now he’s getting in position to make plays much more so,” Zimmer said. “Now he’s just got to continue to work on the last part of it. I think he’s been pretty good at the line of scrimmage. There’s always things to work on, but I think that part he’s gotten a lot better. His transition has been a lot better.”
Coaches can thank, in part, Newman for that progress. Waynes gushed about all the wisdom that the 37-year-old cornerback has imparted on the 24-year old.
“I really don’t think there’s any top (thing) just because there is so much. He’s damn near like a coach out there,” Waynes said of Newman. “Every play he’s watching and if I mess up or do something or he sees something that I can adjust, he’s always there to let me know.”
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Apparently the same play from a 2015 organized team practice that impressed observers also made a strong impression with Waynes. Newman broke on a route that a receiver was running – before the receiver ever made his cut.
Years of experience can do that for a cornerback.
“I’m just sitting there in awe, like ‘How in the hell did you just do that?’ I asked him, ‘How the hell did you just run the route before the receiver, before he even made his break?’” Waynes said. “The knowledge that he’s acquired throughout the years is just amazing.”
Someday, Waynes could get there. There’s little doubt he has the physical tools. He possesses all the speed necessary, and at 6 feet tall, he’s listed as two inches taller than Newman.
So how good could he end up being if he continues to progress?
“I’m not one to just make predictions,” he said. “I’m just going to go out and play ball and see what happens.”