Opportunity is knocking for Trae Waynes.
The Minnesota Vikings’ former first-round pick took the majority of the snaps with the first team on Saturday night, facing off with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen throughout the Minnesota Vikings’ final night practice at the University of Minnesota, Mankato. One pass breakup in zone coverage drew a big cheer from the jammed-packed stands.
Waynes saw the field much more in his sophomore season than his rookie year, jumping from just 18.9% of snaps in 2015 to 55.9% of total defensive plays last year. In 2017, the Vikings could give him the majority of snaps and move veteran Terence Newman to a utility role if he continues to show improvement.
“He’s getting better and better every day,” safety Harrison Smith said. “He was blessed with tremendous speed from Day 1 and he’s learned how to use that more and more to his advantage covering guys.”
In 2016, Waynes started several games in the absence of either Xavier Rhodes or Newman. He allowed just a 56.0% completion percentage and 77.4 QB rating on throws in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus.
While his numbers came out as being solid, there were some notable down moments. Against Detroit, he lined up too far off the line of scrimmage in overtime and gave up a key first down to the Lions. At Lambeau in Week 16, Aaron Rodgers went 4-for-4 for 90 yards and a touchdown when throwing at Waynes.
Smith said the degree of difficulty of playing cornerback is high, which explains the steep learning curve for young players at that position.
“I don’t want to pretend to know what it’s like always being out there by yourself without any help,” Smith said. “In my opinion, physically that’s one of the hardest things you can do on the field all game long. So there are going to be some things you’re going to have to learn along the way and continue to learn. Terence [Newman] is an example of a guy who’s still learning, that’s why he’s so good. I think Trae has been doing that as well and he’s making a lot of plays.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer talked earlier in the week about Waynes’ growth, saying he may have erred trying to give the ex-Michigan State corner time in the slot as a rookie.
“When he came in he had a lot to learn,” Zimmer said. “I probably messed him up a little bit by trying to play him at nickel some. I was giving him a little more to do with some of that. He’s not a real talkative guy, he’s pretty quiet and reserved in the things he’s done. I think he’s learned a lot from [Terence] Newman, he’s learned a lot from Xavier [Rhodes], and from [DBs Coach] Jerry [Gray], obviously. I think he’s handled it really well.
“I think this will be a big year for him, hopefully he comes in and he plays great. That’s what we’re expecting.”
The Vikings face off with the Buffalo Bills in their first preseason game on Thursday. Waynes’ snaps will be worth following through preseason – though we aren’t likely to have a feel for his role until Week 1.