Players and coaches insisted there wouldn’t be much concern. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who agreed to the practices against his former team, insisted that the respect between him and Marvin Lewis should translate to the field between the players.
Yet, early in Wednesday’s practice, reporters on the scene tweeted that Adam Thielen took exception to a play in which his helmet came off, and Adam Jones, one of those Bengals that lost his cool in the playoff game, was involved.
“Yes, but it’s not a concern for me. But at the same time we’re just trying to go out there and compete,” Munnerlyn said. “We’re not going in there like, ‘Oh, man, this guy could really start a fight.’ We’re just going out there to compete and try to stay within the rules. We’re not going to take no dirty shots. We hope they don’t. We’re just trying to make each other better.”
However, the Vikings proved that they don’t need another team to incite a fight at practice. Over the course of a week, WR Laquon Treadwell threw CB Jabari Price to the ground, and on Tuesday DT Linval Joseph did the same to RG Brandon Fusco, with other players piling on top.
When it comes to training camp, tempers can flare when players get heated and competitive. Just as Munnerlyn, who went up against one the game’s premier trash talkers when he was practicing in Carolina against former teammate Steve Smith.
“We’re both competitive. I think both of us have little-man’s syndrome,” Munnerlyn said. “It’s just being competitive.”
That competitiveness got the best of them, even during a one-on-one portion of one practice.
“He came off the line of scrimmage, he shoved me, caught the ball and he spinned it. It was like a 5-yard route. You know, fans out there watching one-on-ones, he spinned the ball on me and I got mad so I picked up the ball and threw it at him,” Munnerlyn recalled. “We were jawing at each other, back and forth. The next one, he came up and I grabbed his facemask. I was just trying to compete and letting him know I wasn’t a pushover. Even though I was a younger guy, let him know I wasn’t a pushover. It was an exciting time. I grew up a lot; Steve showed me a lot. At the end of the day, we walked into the locker room and we were friends and we talked about everything. It showed me a lot. It showed me how to be competitive.”
When asked who the Vikings’ biggest trash talker is, he singled out defensive teammate Everson Griffen, then included himself in that category.
But no one can rival the trash talking of Smith, Munnerlyn said.
“Most definitely he’s No. 1. But when he crossed those lines to go into the locker room he was a different player, a different person,” Munnerlyn said. “Steve is a great guy. He’ll laugh. He’ll joke. But when we crossed that line, oh, man, he turned into an animal. Competitive. He wants to win so bad. He wants to be great so bad. You’ve gotta love a guy like that.”
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Munnerlyn said some players can be thrown off their game with trash talk from the opposition. He didn’t want to classify them as “weak-minded,” but said some will simply walk away from the barbs.
Smith, however, is a guy to avoid when it comes to talking smack. And other times it’s not even Smith talking to the opponent, but rather muttering to himself, that gets the opposition thinking.
“I remember one time I was practicing against him, I had good coverage. I made the play on him. He was like, ‘Man, good job,’” Munnerlyn recalled. “The next play he came up and it seemed like he was talking to himself like, ‘He can’t play me! I don’t know who he thinks he is!’ He was talking to himself and I was like, ‘Man, you just told me I did a good job.’ What’s wrong with this guy? He’s just so competitive.”
Of course, most Vikings fans will remember the time Smith rubbed in some troubled and tense times in Minnesota. After the Vikings’ so-called “Love Boat” scandal in 2005, Smith scored a touchdown in the Metrodome and pretended to row a boat.
It added to the embarrassment of the franchise at the time, and Smith later said he ruined Fred Smoot’s career (Smoot was a central figure in the Love Boat scandal), gaining 201 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions in that game with Smoot often trying to cover him – you might remember Smoot saying one time that “Two-thirds of the world is covered by water. The other third is covered by Fred Smoot.”
Munnerlyn recalls another Smith moment against Minnesota when the two of them were in Carolina together. It was another trash talker that set him off that time.
“I remember one time when we were playing the Minnesota Vikings. I think it was 2009 and one of the guys, I think it was Benny Sapp, said something on the sidelines and Antoine Winfield was playing him in the game,” Munnerlyn said. “He came to sideline and he was like, ‘I’m going to give ’Toine all this work today and it’s going to be because of that guy on the sideline.’ He was pointing at Benny Sapp. And he went in that game. I think he had almost 200 yards (157 and a touchdown on nine catches) and we ended up winning the game. He’s one of those guys you just don’t talk to on the field. You just let him go about his job and let him do what he do. If you talk to him, he’s going to get fired up and he’s going to make you pay for it.”
Munnerlyn doesn’t expect any such issues from the Vikings receivers. While he said he and Griffen are two of the top talkers on the team, the receiving corps doesn’t say much.
“They don’t talk a lot. Most of those guys, they’re a little flashy,” he said. “They like to showboat with the ball, but they won’t talk much to you.”