Key to the rebuilding process, Captain Munnerlyn also aims to teach
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings boast 18 defensive backs on their 90-man roster, but none are more important to the rebuilding process than Captain Munnerlyn.
As the Vikings prepare to open the third and final week of Organized Team Activities, Munnerlyn says his role extends beyond making an individual impact, but ensuring his less experienced teammates are up to task.
"Coming in here, I know I got to step up big time," Munnerlyn said. "Do what they brought me in to do, make plays and teach [teammates] on and off the field. Xavier Rhodes, prime example. We need him to go out and make plays, but also understand route concepts."
The Vikings brought in Munnerlyn on a three-year, $14.25 million deal as the key offseason acquisition to turn around a dismal secondary.
Munnerlyn's most important asset will be to fill the Vikings' nickel cornerback role that has been relatively vacant since Antoine Winfield's attrition two seasons ago. However, first-year head coach Mike Zimmer has praised Munnerlyn's on-field savvy, specifically his ability to anticipate routes, and that's something Munnerlyn hopes to pass on.
He grabbed seven interceptions in five seasons with the Panthers, returning five of those for touchdowns, as he replaces Chris Cook - a second-round pick by Minnesota that failed to account for an interception in four seasons.
Munnerlyn, 26, figures to make that a point of emphasis for the likes of Rhodes, Josh Robinson and the other seven cornerbacks on the team. At this point in the offseason, the Vikings currently have more defensive backs (18) on the roster than the Green Bay Packers (16), Chicago Bears (16) and Detroit Lions (14).
Zimmer hopes that quantity will turn into quality for Minnesota.
"Actually, I think we've improved quite a bit back there," Zimmer said. "We're doing a much better job in the coverage than early on in the first minicamp. We're understanding coverages better, playing a lot tighter."
Though coaches will say every spot is up for grabs, it's likely Harrison Smith, Rhodes and Munnerlyn are the only secondary players pegged down as starters in September. Newly-added cornerback Derek Cox is the most experienced alongside Munnerlyn and is a top candidate for the team's third corner.
Whatever pieces fall into place, the Vikings are tasked with turning around a defense that allowed 37 touchdown passes last season and one that hasn't had a positive turnover ratio since 2009.
Minnesota also allowed more than 1,000 passing yards against the slot, per ProFootballFocus.com, and that's where Munnerlyn aims to turn things around.
"[Captain] is a smart guy, he's got some knowledge about things," Zimmer said. "But he's been very good in the slot. He understands route concepts. He communicate well, so that part has been good to have him in there, because if I can continue to get him to do what I want him to do then he is a calming factor."
"Sometimes [Munnerlyn] wants to do his own thing, so I have to talk to him a little bit," Zimmer added.
Zimmer's hard-nosed style likely has a different effect on every player, but so far the Vikings' key secondary addition has embraced it.
"He's just coaching us real hard, I love that," Munnerlyn said. "I know I can't slip up. He knows if I'm not on my 'A' game, always wants you on your 'A' game. I love that."