Updated: July 31st, 2012 12:44pm
Vikings veteran Antoine Winfield on board with 'pitch count' plan

Vikings veteran Antoine Winfield on board with 'pitch count' plan

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Antoine Winfield is on board with the Minnesota Vikings' plan to reduce his snaps this season, provided they don't go too far.

"We talked about that a little bit during the offseason," the 35-year-old cornerback said on Tuesday. "Year 14, you might not last 900 snaps. But yeah, I'm going to play my share."

It was no secret the Vikings wanted to find a way to preserve Winfield, who has been limited by injuries two of the past three seasons. But new defensive coordinator Alan Williams was the first to confirm they want to set a specific number of snaps for Winfield to play each week.

"He's a technician," Williams said of Winfield. "The body's not going to stay young forever, so he can rely on his years of experience to play and play well, and we realize that there are only so many reps that a body has.

"We want to be smart about how we use him, about how we play him, and really ... some of that's going to be how fast some of our younger guys or some of the guys that we brought in come up to speed. So, that's yet to be determined. But we do know that he's going to be on a pitch count. What that pitch count is, I don't know yet."

After missing six games in 2009 because of a foot injury that severely limited his mobility, Winfield bounced back in 2010, playing 98.2% of the Vikings' defensive snaps and showing he was still one of the NFL's best slot men when healthy.

But a neck strain cost him four games early last season, and in his first game back on Nov. 14 at Green Bay, Winfield broke his collarbone and landed on injured reserve.

"I'd like to have him on the field all the time," Williams said, "but I just don't know how many reps that he will be able to get and how fast our young guys come along."

The Vikings used a third-round draft pick on Josh Robinson and signed veteran Chris Carr, who has been working as the third cornerback in the nickel defense along with Winfield and Chris Cook.

Ideally, one of those players would fare well enough to become a starter and allow Winfield to focus strictly on nickel duties. But Robinson remains out with a hamstring injury suffered on the first day of camp and Carr probably is better-suited to subpackage duty at this stage of his career.

That could mean Winfield plays a larger role until coaches are comfortable with the players working behind him.

"Absolutely," Winfield said. "We haven't really come up with anything yet, but yeah, I'll probably play the first couple games, move into the nickel, rotate it a little bit. Anything I can do to help this team win."

Winfield's base salary is a modest $3 million -- down from $7 million because the time he missed last season triggered a de-escalator clause, converting the difference into playing time-based incentives. He's still due $7.25 million in 2013, but that number also would dip if he becomes a part-time player.

Considering he's better off playing in the slot anyway, the move to playing only in nickel and dime coverages makes sense -- provided the Vikings have someone else capable of covering on the outside.

Told that Winfield knows he's getting older, Williams smiled and said, "I don't think anybody told him that. I don't know if he's aware of that. So, you'd have to go check with him if he's aware that he's getting older, because I looked at (Monday's) practice and there is nothing that says that he's slowing down or wearing out or whatever verbiage you want to use with that."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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