Rhodes hurt his knee Sunday morning and the Vikings made the unusual move of adding him to the injury report as questionable, then 90 minutes before the game declared him inactive. Enter second-year cornerback Trae Waynes, who made one start last year but generally played sparingly.
“I haven’t been around too many of those where you find out two hours before the game, three hours before the game that you’re going to start,” said 14-year veteran cornerback Terence Newman who started opposite Waynes. “It’s definitely not something that’s ideal, but it happened and (Waynes) dealt with it and he went out and made some plays. Heck, I think he led the team in tackles yesterday. That’s a busy day for him for sure.”
Waynes did lead the team in tackles with 10, but much of that was due to how much he was targeted. Titans QB Marcus Mariota threw Waynes’ way 12 times, completing nine of those passes for 85 yards.
The good news? Waynes was close enough to make the tackles in coverage. The bad news? He wasn’t credited with knocking away any passes.
“I thought he was tight in coverage. I think they caught some balls on him, but every one of them was contested,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We just got to get some of those out. I thought he made a nice play on the third-and-1, and towards the end of the game he started to finish those plays better. He adjusted his play a little bit in the second half and I thought that helped.”
Perhaps Waynes’ best play came in the first half, when he diagnosed a pass to running back Derrick Henry and dropped him for a 1-yard loss on third down, forcing a punt.
As he gains confidence, Waynes may also be able to ratchet up the aggressiveness.
“Trae is just so cool, man. He’s just so laid back. You’ve got to have that, arrr (growling). You’ve got to compete at another level,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “You’ve got to have that dog in you. Some people are just laid back and they just like to play football so Trae’s just got to take the next step and have that dog in him and say, ‘Nobody is catching the ball on me today.’”
Tajae Sharpe did catch the ball plenty on Waynes, grabbing six passes for 65 yards with Waynes in coverage on him.
In some instances, there were great throws by Mariota or great catches by the receivers Waynes was covering. Clearly, there is progress in his game from his rookie season, and also things to continue working on.
“I think he played pretty well. Still learning,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s young still, got to get a little bit more experience. He was so close on some plays. You’d be like, ‘Oh, how did the quarterback fit that in there?’ I told him you’ve got to try to take the next step and that’s making the play. You’ve got to compete better and make the plays this week.”
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The challenge will intensify if Rhodes is unable to play with Aaron Rodgers coming to town and bringing Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb with him. We could find out then if Waynes is ready to step up to challenge one of the better passing attacks in the NFL.
“Going forward,” Newman said, “I think he’s just going to grow and start to blossom. Same thing he did last year.”