It took Sam Brown a few weeks to figure out that the guy everyone called “T-New” was actually a player he’d grown up idolizing.
Terence Newman isn’t quite as common of a name as Sam Brown, but there was an Adrian Peterson who played for the Bears, so he figured it must be the a different dude with the same name. Brown politely said he’d simply lost track of Terence Newman after he left the Dallas Cowboys, but honestly, if you weren’t a Vikings fan, you wouldn’t have thought the Pro Bowler from the early-2000s, the guy who followed in Deion’s shoes back in the day, would still be playing in the NFL.
Brown signed with the Vikings on July 26, three days after camp began. He’d been a star at Western Missouri State and spent 2016 camp with the Baltimore Ravens. A short stint with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL didn’t work out, but one scout sung enough of his praises to the Vikings to score him a tryout.
If you’ve played the Madden 18 “Longshot” mode, you understand the odds Brown was up against coming into Vikings camp. Newman, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Marcus Sherels were locks to make the team, then Tre Roberson had been on the practice squad the previous year.
Brown’s odds, however, weren’t relevant to Newman, who has seen players like Adam Thielen, Andrew Sendejo and Tom Johnson go from longshot to starter during his time with the Vikings.
“I remember the first interaction that we had, he was watching my breaks and he was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you got real good breaks, I like you, you move well, you break well, You snap out of your breaks,’” Brown said over the phone Thursday.
“Mind you, I hadn’t even learned his name yet at that point. He was like, ‘You’re natural, I could see you playing in this league for a long time.’ And that was like, who is this guy? I did my research and I was like, he didn’t know me from a can of paint, I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall and for him to say that on the very first day, that was major for me.”
Newman was a pretty popular target for local news post-practice interviews in training camp. The Old Man Newman story was getting run. But if you wanted Newman, you had to wait until he was done working with Sam Brown.
“I remember when he started helping me with my backpedal,” Brown added. “What am I, 25? I’ve been backpedaling a lot, obviously not as long as him, but I’ve done a lot of backpedaling, only to find out that I had some things to be corrected on in a motion that looks so easy. The things that he corrected me on were simple, but they made things much easier.”
With Captain Munnerlyn gone in free agency and Alexander not yet ready to take over the starting nickel job, the Vikings were asking Newman to play most of his snaps in a spot that he’d rarely played before for long stretches. Head coach Mike Zimmer pointed out that Newman had played some nickel in Dallas, but wasn’t very good at it.
He’s certainly good at it now. Brown marveled at Newman during those humid August days in Mankato, watching the 39-year-old defensive back switch between three different positions – corner, nickelback and safety – on a daily basis like he’d played each one of them his entire life.
“He thinks on another level,” Brown said. “I’m sure he’s seen as many curl routes as you could possibly think of or as many go routes as you could possibly think of. I like the fact that, as soon as he deciphers exactly what you’re doing as a receiver, instead of me chasing your every move down to get me off of you, I’ve already figured it out and I’m going to go ahead and meet you there.”
You’d think at this point Newman would want to worry about his own problems, not those of an undrafted, late-signing guy. After all, this might be his last shot. The Vikings’ veteran only came back for another swing because he believed the team had the talent to win a Super Bowl – something that’s eluded him over his 15-year career.
“He’s invited me out to eat,” Brown said. “Before a game he’s rolled with me on the bus for an entire ride coaching me up, allowing me to ask him questions about being nervous or what’s your mindset going into the game or helping me study a little bit of film or giving me pointers. It was like a real-life, big-brother experience in that small amount of time.”
Brown is bright and friendly and strikes you as someone who wouldn’t have any problem finding a white collar job, but Newman’s confidence in him helped keep his spark alive. It’s likely he’ll end up back in the CFL next year, though he’d hardly be the first player the Vikings kept bringing back to camp as a you-never-know player.
“Hopefully I will be able to look back and maybe make it anywhere close to as far [as Newman has] and a reporter will be calling somebody that I helped out because I didn’t forget how Terence Newman helped me out,” Brown said.
Brown joked that Newman probably forgot about him the minute he was cut.
With no prompting, Newman remembered that Brown had been in camp with the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. He remembered that Brown had been in the CFL. He remembered details of Brown’s game that he liked.
“He wanted the help and he needed the help,” Newman said. “He came in a little behind the eight-ball. I was trying to do my part to at least give him a fair shot to make the team. I have been here for awhile in this system, so I feel like I know exactly what the coaches want, I was just trying to spend some extra time to get him caught up because I knew he was not mentally where he needed to be.”
Newman also remembered that Brown was a willing to take his advice on the Vikings’ defensive system.
“A person who is always talking when you are trying to tell them the answer to his question obviously is not really trying to learn,” Newman said. “It’s a scientific fact that you can’t learn when your mouth is open. You can definitely tell when a guy is really trying to get the information that he needs. [Brown] was a guy that really wanted to learn, so it was easy for me.”
Newman asked to have positive words passed along via text to Brown.
“I liked him a lot,” Newman said. “You know, some guys just have to find the right fit.”
This is Terence Newman in a nutshell.
He’s been a very good player for the Vikings, but his legacy in Minnesota is the fingerprints he’s left on some of the NFL’s greatest players on a Super Bowl-caliber roster.
The top prospects
Dalvin Cook did one interview with the Twin Cities media following his ACL injury to give an update on his status, then shut it down for the rest of the year. It’s important to Cook that he doesn’t take away any attention from their 10-2 season. But when he was cautiously approached about a feature on Newman, Cook responded, “About T-New? I gotta get on that.”
The Vikings put Cook and Newman’s locker next to each other in an area they call “The Neighborhood” for a reason. They hoped the superstar-caliber rookie would catch on to some of Newman’s habits.
Around draft time, all the analysts discussed issues with Cook’s character – which look pretty inaccurate now in hindsight. But part of Cook’s quick adaptation to the NFL can be attributed to his locker buddy.
“Coming in and recognizing my locker was so close to his, it was just how he did everything,” Cook said. “How he moved, how he was by himself, how he was a pro, how he carries a book bag every where he goes, how he carries a notepad.”
From watching Newman’s every move, the Vikings’ second-round pick quickly discovered that NFL bookwork is a full-time job in itself.
“Maaaan, I’ve learned a lot,” Cook said. “Gotta study man. Once you learn the game, you don’t have to be as athletic and stuff like that, you just use your mind and put your body in the right position…I just keep watching film, dedicate myself to the books and stuff like that, I can get to that level one day.”
Prior to his injury, the former Florida State star was near the top of the NFL in rushing with 354 yards on just 74 carries. He flashed rare vision, elusiveness and explosion. He also caught on so quickly to the Vikings’ offense that he was on the field for around 80 percent of total plays despite Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon being more experienced.
The road to Cook’s successful start began in Mankato, where he gained confidence that he could be a top running back at the NFL level.
“That Saturday night scrimmage in Mankato, it was on the goal line and I kind of got free and it was just me and T-New,” Cook said. “I was already at the goal line, him being a pro, I hit him but he let me go in the end zone. He came to the sideline and he said, ‘Man, you heavy.’ I said, ‘I know I need to lose weight.’ And he was like, ‘No, you run behind the pads. I like that man. Just keep running like that.’ Once he told me that, it was just kind of my mindset of how T-New told me to keep running. From a vet, it was good to hear.”
Teddy Bridgewater is also a part of The Neighborhood. In fact, he’s kind of in charge of neighborhood watch. If you stop over to mingle uninvited, you’re going to be fined $1. Same goes for a lack of swag or a sour attitude. Teddy may be the one who hands down fines in The Neighborhood now, but there were times over the past 16 months that he would have gotten dinged for being down.
You can bet there were plenty of setbacks during Bridgewater’s 15-month recovery from a knee injury that threatened his career, but his locker neighbor would make sure the Vikings’ Pro Bowl quarterback was staying positive.
“I don’t want to single anyone out, but I’m going to: Terence Newman, he’s awesome,” Bridgewater told reporters during his first press conference since training camp. “There’s a reason he’s played in this league for so long. He mentored me throughout this process. He always kept me smiling.
Bridgewater said Newman avoids fines because of his “O.G.” status. Newman praises Bridgewater as one of the most mentally tough players he’s ever been around. When the 25-year-old quarterback does get back under center in a game again, there will be shades of Newman’s influence.
“There would be days I’d come in and probably wouldn’t be too enthused about it and he would come up to me and say, ‘Where’s that smile? I don’t see that smile.’ I guess I’m just known to smile a lot, but he would bring it out of me and he would always bring the best out of me. He brings the best out of a lot of guys on this team.”
Newman has also brought out the best of Xavier Rhodes, who has become one of the NFL’s elite corners and locked down the likes of Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Julio Jones this season.
At 6-foot-1 with a with a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, the Vikings knew he had the tools of an elite corner. When Newman signed with the Vikings in 2015, one of his first jobs was to focus on helping Rhodes maximize his potential.
On Tuesdays, Rhodes is part of a crew of corners who come in on the team’s day off to watch film with Newman.
“A couple of guys come watch film with him and try to pick his brain, see how he watches film,” Rhodes said. “He’s been in this game so long, you want to know how and why he’s been in the game so long.”
Ask Rhodes about a wide receiver, he’ll sound Newman-like in his breakdown. Last year, he pointed out Odell Beckham’s tendency to push off out of breaks. He noted that the key to facing Michael Thomas was understanding where Drew Brees would want to place the ball. He broke down Julio Jones’s mental mindset.
“Being able to tell what people are trying to do to me, how they’re trying to get in my head, stuff like that,” Rhodes said. “What to see, what not to see, what to do what not to do, what’s there for me, what my weakness is, how people are trying to target me on certain routes. It’s like he’s a coach on the field, you’re grateful to have a guy like that, to have the knowledge he has.”
Mackensie Alexander, a hard-headed second-rounder who didn’t take the coaching in stride right away, began to discover Newman’s Law of learning to play corner at a high level.
“This is the first year he’s gotten close to Mackensie,” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said. “Mackensie was a rookie, so he was more standoffish last year and now you see Mackensie taking a bigger role, [saying things like] ‘Hey look, what do you see here?’”
“A lot of times guys don’t understand that, if I’ve got the experience and you’re still young and I give it to you, that makes you a better football player earlier,” Gray added. “You don’t have to go through heartaches that I went through.”
Alexander barely saw the field this year, but with Newman’s help he has become a significant role player. It appears he’s put himself back in line to be the future nickel corner once Newman retires in 2027.
Stefon Diggs isn’t supposed to be here. In the fifth round of the 2015 draft, the Vikings took MyCole Pruitt before Diggs. Jacksonville selected receiver Rashad Greene, who has 24 career catches, instead of picking Diggs. Oakland’s Amari Cooper, the No. 4 overall pick, is the only receiver from the 2015 class with more catches and yards than Diggs. Who would have seen that coming?
During his rookie year, the Vikings’ star receiver, who has ranked in Pro Football Focus’s top-20 receivers over the last two seasons, discovered pretty quickly that if he didn’t learn the details of the game, he was never going to beat Newman in practice.
“I have much respect for him and love because he made my game what it is along the way, learning, growing,” Diggs said. “Losing to him and it’s like, why did I lose to him? He’ll explain what you do well, what you don’t do well, what you can do better.”
Diggs went from a healthy scratch the first three games, to the team’s top target by the end of 2015.
“My rookie year, it’s always a learning curve, I saw a lot of great DBs and he was one of them, and I got to go against him on a regular basis,” Diggs said. “To see that the mental aspect of the game plays a bigger part than the athletic speed. I know some guys who are blazing fast who can’t get open. I know some guys who run great routes but can’t catch. It comes down to your fundamentals, he’s like top 10 guys of all time.”
Newman isn’t just training players on how to watch film and improve their technique. He also understands what it takes to motivate each player. Before games, he will sometimes walk up to Diggs and say, “Remember, you were a fifth-round pick.”
“He reminds you to keep a chip on your shoulder,” Diggs said. “Remember where you came from. No matter how much success you have, remember where you came from, how far you have to go and what you want to get done. You came from the back door, keep that chip.”
Linebacker Eric Kendricks, whose locker is a few spots down from The Neighborhood, shares an inquisitiveness, love for West Coast Hip Hop, and trash talking expertise with Newman. He knows all about the veteran corner’s motivational tactics. Newman will make sure he doesn’t forget that draft experts criticized his size.
“He’s definitely a pest, a little instigator,” Kendricks jokes. “He loves to see people fight and stuff like that, it’s fun. But he motivates you, bro.”
Newman wanders by and needles Kendricks, then says, “Stop being so sensitive.”
Kendricks replies, “I’m over here saying nice things about you, stroking your ego.”
Zimmer said this offseason the game has slowed down for the 2015 second-round pick. He’s become one of the NFL’s best cover linebackers and one of the important pieces to a top-5 run defense. How do you slow the game down? Get smarter.
“Especially my rookie year I was just bugging him, asking him a lot of questions,” Kendricks said. “I feel like I still do that. He knows everything. He’s been in the league for so long. Every situation that comes up, he’s got an answer for.”
“I try to be as smart as him, but he’s been doing it way longer than me,” Kendricks said. “I want to be that type of player, but it takes time. I want to think of myself as that type of player, I won’t say I’m there yet.”
Only 13 years to go to catch up to Newman.
Coach on the field
Mike Zimmer and Terence Newman have never done an interview together, but you imagine them finishing each other’s sentences if they did.
The two first met in 2003 when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys under Bill Parcells and the ‘Boys somehow won 10 games with Quincey Carter as their quarterback. Newman was a quick star, picking up four interceptions and defending 20 passes (team high). Newman played nine years with Dallas and made the Pro Bowl twice, both times with Wade Phillips as his head coach.
At 34, Newman signed back with Zimmer in Cincinnati. Then when he hit the free agent market, Zim brought him along to Minnesota.
The Vikings’ head coach, who went 7-9 in 2014, then has gone 29-15 with Newman on the squad, feels like he has an extra member of the coaching staff in the locker room, in meetings and on the field.
“I think he’s got a good way about him that they all respect him,” Zimmer said. “If there has ever been any kind of an issue, he’ll tell them, ‘Hey, we’re not doing that.’ He’s done that before. I think he also helps them a lot in understanding how to study film. I give him assignments a lot of times. I gave him one this morning, something that they’re doing and I said, ‘I want you to check this out.’ Those kinds of things lead [other players], ‘OK he had to do it, I’m going to learn how to do it from him.’”
When Newman is done playing, he very well may end up as an official member of Zimmer’s coaching staff.
“I think he’d make a great coach. I’ve talked to him about it,” Zimmer said. “He likes playing. Some guys that just play, they haven’t learned how to coach. There’s a difference between coaching and playing. Understanding like, these guys can tell you everything that they might do but they can’t tell you about the scheme or they can’t tell you about another position or coaching that or the [Graduate Assistant] work that guys had to do.
“He’s different in the fact that he sees the big picture – and he’s been with me a long time – he wants to know what defensive linemen do, he wants to know about what linebackers do. Not just that, he wants to know about receivers, how they run routes and splits and formations. I think he has a good grasp of the overall game. Not just ‘I’m a corner and that’s what I do.’”
Jerry Gray said the Vikings utilize the credibility that comes along with having made it to 39 in the NFL. They know Newman is living every player’s dream. But many go by the wayside because they don’t realize that part of their value is to help others grow. Newman embodies the concept and nobody appreciates that more than Gray.
“The biggest thing that I see is a guy who is willing, unselfish, to give these young guys his knowledge of the game,” Gray said. “A lot of times guys leave this game and they don’t share their knowledge, so it just goes with them. It’s like lost knowledge. But you can see [Terence], he’s played a high level, he understands that, I might not be playing at that type of level, but I’ve got the mental capacity to help these young guys get there. And if I can help them grow a lot faster, then we’re going to be a lot better football team. Meeting room, talking to those guys on the sideline, get them to understand the big picture, you see him doing a lot of things that coaches can’t do.”
Gray said that he’d never met Newman before, but knew immediately that he had something special because the Vikings’ veteran corner was talking about the game the same way as the coaches.
“It’s very rare,” Gray said. “He reminds me of when [Charles] Woodson was going through from Green Bay to Oakland. You look and you say, ‘How can this guy play this long this well and be teaching these guys while he’s on the football field?’”
Everybody has their theories about how Newman is still playing – and playing extremely well. He’s been a top-notch nickel corner this season. According to Football Outsiders’ tracking data, Newman has only been targeted 30 times and allowed 6.2 yards per attempt into his coverage. Pro Football Focus ranks him 48th of 115 qualifying corners.
Rhodes thinks it’s the way Newman takes care of his body.
“Still playing at 40 – he keeps telling me he’s 39 but I think he’s 40 – it’s hard to be playing this game at 40,” Rhodes said. “It’s hard to be still playing this game at 35 at 32. I was told that if you play football you have to add 10 years to your body, so if you’re 23 you’re 33. So right now he’s 50.”
Kendricks thinks he’s otherworldly, like LeBron.
“I think there’s a couple reasons, one is his work ethic and ability and he’s just a freak,” Kendricks said. “I say this when someone asks a question about him, you have like LeBron James, you have all these freaks that play these sports and he’s no exception. He’s a freak. Athletically, freak.”
Gray said it’s all in Newman’s head.
“His brain is playing a whole lot faster that young guys are running,” he said. “When the ball snaps, he already knows, OK I’ve seen this, so many times, they’re going to do this, and that’s what he does. Compared to young guys, they’re not processing. Their process is: I want to run first and then think later.”
Brown believes it’s his competitive fire.
“He’s 39 years old, he still has that hard-nose, old school football in him,” Brown said. “He’s still gritty. He doesn’t hesitate at any moment to throw whatever he has in him to make a tackle. I think the game, it’s changed a bit, but he still brings that hard rock in him. He still plays like he’s 22 or 23 and the youngest of us all.”
Packing up at his locker, Newman pokes around looking for the right shoes. They look mostly the same, but he remembers which ones he wore in Atlanta. Then he walks out, passing by all the players he’s impacted as they get ready for a run at The Big Dance. They wouldn’t be here without him.