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Updated: July 31st, 2014 2:32pm
Vikings will lean on Captain Munnerlyn as a leader on defense

Vikings will lean on Captain Munnerlyn as a leader on defense

by The Associated Press
Audio Clip
7/27/2014
1500 ESPN's Purple Podcast episode 2: Camp observations and Adam Thielen
The second episode of 1500 ESPN’s Purple Podcast with Andrew Krammer, Derek Wetmore, Judd Zulgad and Phil Mackey. It includes an Adam Thielen interview, including telling him that he’s the early leader in the clubhouse for #MrMankato. He’s got a decent shot to earn a spot on the Vikings roster as a wide receiver and special teams player, after spending time on the practice squad last season. He played college in Mankato and now is hoping to earn his stripes in training camp on the same fields. --- Before the interview, Andrew was asked about his observations during practices and walk-throughs: How is the linebacker situation playing out? Is Chad Greenway really in consideration for the middle linebacker position? Or is he a better candidate for the weakside? How will Jasper Brinkley fit? Is he the starting MLB? How does Anthony Barr fit and what do you envision will be his role? --- We’ve seen a strange package with Harrison Smith this weekend at practice—what do you read into that? How does Everson Griffen fit in? An observation about Griffen going head-to-head with Matt Kalil. --- Norv Turner on Saturday brought up Matt Asiata as one of the most impressive players he’s seen in the early part of camp. Should we read into that? What do the coaches think of Jerick McKinnon? How will he fit on the team?
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MANKATO, Minn. (AP) - Captain Munnerlyn started his first training camp with the Minnesota Vikings away from the action and on the sideline, placed on the physically unable to perform list so he could work his way through a minor hamstring injury.

Make no mistake, though. Munnerlyn will play the most prominent role in this team's young secondary.

"I'm definitely a leadership kind of guy," he said. "My name's Captain!"

Drafting Teddy Bridgewater was the offseason move by the Vikings that created the biggest stir, given their decade-long quest to establish a long-term solution at quarterback.

Signing Munnerlyn in free agency was the most important acquisition in the meantime, however.

This is a defense that allowed an average of 30 points per game last year, the most in the league, and the root of the problem was at cornerback.

The Vikings abruptly dumped veteran Antoine Winfield to save space under the salary cap, and again declined to bring him back once the season started so they could add quarterback Josh Freeman.

They lost not only their emotional compass, but pound for pound their best tackler.

Winfield's skill at playing the slot position against formations of three or more wide receivers was a stabilizing force for the group while others had their ups and downs at the outside spots.

Josh Robinson was asked to learn slot coverage on the fly and failed at it often. Xavier Rhodes emerged during his rookie year as a promising building block, but he was still raw and was frequently injured. Chris Cook had another unproductive season and was not brought back.

The rest of the depth chart was, to put it diplomatically, mixed and matched. Now with Munnerlyn in the fold and a scheme change under new coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings are banking on far better performances from their defensive backs.

"We want no uncontested throws, so we want to be right up there on the receivers and limit those windows those quarterbacks have to throw it," defensive coordinator George Edwards said.

Munnerlyn is tied with Charles Tillman for the most interception return touchdowns over the past four seasons, with five. He was credited last year with a career-high 13 pass breakups and 86 tackles.

With Rhodes entrenched at one spot, Robinson is in line to start at the other outside spot with Munnerlyn in the middle. Shaun Prater, Derek Cox and Marcus Sherels are the other returners in competition, and draft picks Jabari Price and Kendall James are also under consideration.

But while the evolution of NFL offenses has dictated the nickel defense to be used almost as often as the base alignment, there will be plenty of plays when only two cornerbacks are on the field. Munnerlyn doesn't plan on being on the sideline for those.

"I'm never going to sell myself short in being just a nickel. I feel like I'm a starting corner," he said. "I can be that guy on the outside. Yeah, I think it's a job up for grabs, and if a job's up for grabs I'm going to win it."

Munnerlyn was attracted to Minnesota largely because of Zimmer and his preference to play physical, pressing coverage at the line of scrimmage. That fits his style well.

"That's something I pride myself on, not letting my guy catch the ball," Munnerlyn said.

The Vikings will need a lot of that from Munnerlyn to improve upon their greatest weakness of 2013.

"I've been happy with him. He's very, very competitive. He likes to talk a lot on the field, so we've got to keep him reined in a little bit," Zimmer said. "But that's better than having to go the other way."

© The Associated Press
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