Winfield Impressing Scouts, Players

Antoine Winfield garnered the biggest free-agent push the Vikings franchise has ever made. The reaction of players and scouts after seeing him in action this week would indicated the effort put forth in March was worth it.

From scouts to coaches to players, Antoine Winfield seems to have the respect of the entire organization after two months of preparation before this weekend's minicamp.

Before free agency opened, former Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey and Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse were the glitz and glamour options in free agency. Bailey was traded to Denver before he had a chance to test the dollars of the open market and Kearse went quickly to Philadelphia.

That's when things got serious with Antoine Winfield. Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King had nothing but praise for Winfield's ability, saying Bailey and Winfield were the only cornerbacks he felt certain were worth big money.

The Vikings felt the same way.

"Everybody in this building (Winter Park) liked Antoine Winfield," Vikings director of pro scouting Paul Wiggin said. "He was our No. 1 guy — Champ Bailey was — but (Winfield) was our No. 1 guy we knew we could get. We knew we could be in the fray to get him — we didn't know we could get him but we knew he was going to be leaving Buffalo."

He almost left Buffalo for the New York Jets, but Mike Tice's well-chronicled pursuit of Winfield — and a $35 million deal over six years — landed the talented cornerback in Minnesota.

With Bailey, the feeling was that defenses could let him cover his man and not worry about giving help. While the Vikings certainly feel comfortable with Winfield's ability to cover, he also is a big hitter.

Pro scout Jeff Robinson told VU after the signing that he thought Winfield was the best tackler on the team. Another pro scout, Ryan Monnens, talks about a hit Winfield put on Miami's Ricky Williams last year.

While a full regimen of full-pad practices won't start until August in Mankato's training camp, even the padless practices this week have players, coaches and scouts alike focusing on Winfield's abilities.

"He's an exceptional corner. He has a reputation for hitting, and we've seen that in the first few days out here," Pro Bowl strong safety Corey Chavous said. "He's what you call a complete corner. That's why you get the bucks out for guys like that because they're established guys. You don't find many corners in the league like him."

Chavous would know. He is a football history and modern-day film bug.

"(Winfield is) one of the top five guys in this league. He's probably one of the most underrated, but I feel coming in here will really do a lot for his career and exposure. Everybody around the league knew he was one of the top corners, but I think as far as the media and nationally he'll get more exposure because you've got the Randy Mosses, Matt Birks, Daunte Culpeppers and that gives you more exposure."

And Chavous appreciates what having a cornerback of Winfield's ability can allow a defense to do.

"He enables any defense to do some things, no matter who he plays for, because he enjoys playing man coverage and he enjoys coming up in run support. The flexibility he provides is incredible."

The two raps on Winfield are his hands — he has had only six interceptions in five years in the league — and his height. He is listed at 5-foot-9.

Regarding the lack of interceptions, scout Robinson says it's because teams don't throw to receivers being guarded by Winfield. Early practice observations show Winfield blanketing receivers. Regarding the height issue, Monnens said he has reviewed every down that Winfield played last year and witnessed him getting out-jumped for the ball twice all season — and both times it was Miami's Chris Chambers. (No, Miami is not on the schedule this year.)

Most observers are believers in Winfield's ability, but if Winfield can prove his doubters wrong quicker than his footwork looks in practice, then the Vikings backfield could be the best it has been in a decade.

* Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Ted Cottrell is letting former Vikings linebacker and current assistant coach Pete Bercich work more with the middle linebackers. Bercich is considered a bright young football mind and will have plenty of teaching to do with second-year pro E.J. Henderson expected to start and rookie Rod Davis expected to be Henderson's backup.

* Randy Moss continued to practice Wednesday and will likely see action this weekend as well.

* Moe Williams missed all three days of the this week's developmental camp on an excused absence for personal reasons.

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