Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Munnerlyn on knack for scoring, whether he might return punts & more

Posted by: Mark Craig under NFC Updated: June 3, 2014 - 9:28 AM

With seven career interceptions in five seasons, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn leads Chris Cook, his predecessor as a Vikings starter, by, well, seven career interceptions.

While seven picks in 77 regular season games doesn't qualify Munnerlyn as the next Deion, the five returns for touchdowns do tend to jump off the screen. Among active NFL players, he's fifth in career interception returns for touchdowns and 15th in career non-offensive touchdowns.

If that's not enough, consider this: In his past 28 games, Munnerlyn has four interceptions, all of which have been returned for touchdowns.

"I think it's my punt return skills coming into play," Munnerlyn said last week when we talked to him for Sunday's story.  "That’s something I pride myself on. It seems like every time I get the ball, I end up in the end zone. Me being a punt returner, all I see are offensive lineman out there when I intercept the ball. I figure, `Man, if I get past these receivers, there’s no offensive lineman who is going to tackle me.'"

In his career, Munnerlyn has intercepted Carson Palmer (Bengals), Jake Delhomme (Browns), Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Josh Freeman (Buccaneers), Sam Bradford (Rams) and Geno Smith (Jets). He's had touchdown returns of 74 yards (Freeman), 45 yards (Bradford), 41 yards (Smith), 37 yards (Delhomme) and 31 yards (Wilson).

But as a punt returner, he's never scored a touchdown in 75 returns. His longest return is a 37-yarder and his average is 9.0.

Munnerlyn, a seventh-round pick in 2009, returned punts in 2009 (9.0 average), 2010 (10.9) and 2012 (5.1). He also has four career kickoff returns for a 29.8-yard average, but hasn't returned on since 2012.

When Munnerlyn became a starter in 2011, the Panthers turned to Armanti Edwards as a punt returner. He finished last in the league with a 5.5-yard average.

The Panthers gave the job back to Munnerlyn in 2012. In 14 returns, he averaged 5.1 yards. The Panthers decided it was time to go get Ted Ginn, who averaged 12.2 yards last season.

On paper, it would seem that Munnerlyn wouldn't be a punt returner candidate in Minnesota. After all, Marcus Sherels finished second in the league last season with a franchise-record 15.2-yard average.

But Sherels is one of those NFL players who is perpetually scrapping to save his spot on the roster. He's undersized, doesn't have great speed and is overmatched when forced to play cornerback. But he's also very good at being durable, reliable and just good enough to force coaches to keep him.

For now, Sherels is the No. 1 punt returner. Munnerlyn, however, has been fielding punts as well just in case.

Asked if he thinks he'll be able to put those return skills to work as a punt returner, the 26-year-old Munnerlyn sounded like he'd prefer that Sherels keep the job.

"Oooh, I don't know about returning punts [this year]," he said. "That was back in my younger days. This is my sixth year. I don't know if the body can hold up and take all those hits."

Here are some other leftovers from our chat with Munnerlyn:

On the key to playing corner in the slot: "You got to have patience in the slot. Everything moves so fast, but you have to be smart, have the leverage that your coach wants you to play. And you have to be a great tackler because those guys catch those five-yard routes and if you’re not a good tackler, they can turn those five-yard routes into 10, 15 yards. I figure you just have to have want-to. The want-to to make plays. Being on the outside, you have a little room for error. If you slip here or there, you can catch up. in the slot, if you slip and the quarterback sees it and he can make that throw quick and you’re done."

On whether the NFC North or NFC South has the better receivers: "I think the NFC North has the biggest receivers. Hands-down. But both of divisions are stacked with receivers. But I have to go with the NFC North. They got Megatron. They signed Golden Tate [Detroit]. They got Brandon Marshall and my former college teammate, Alshon Jeffery in Chicago."

On whether the NFC North has a tight end that compares to Jimmy Graham: "I don’t think so. I can’t think of a tight end off the top of my head who’s on his level right now. He’s a beast, he’s tough and he likes to talk. But he backs it up."

On the best receiver in the game today: "It's Megatron [Calvin Johnson]. He’s a big body. With those guys, I feel I have to get up and press those guys because if I just play off, it’s going to be just pitch and catch because of their body frame and stuff like that. Being a smaller corner, I have to get up and press and knock their timing off."

On how he was used against Atlanta's receivers: "I didn't shadow anybody because I played in the slot in passing situations. Most of the time, I followed Julio Jones, but then on third down, we put our other corner on him and I slid inside and usually faced Harry [Douglas] or Roddy [White]."

On how he was used against New Orleans: "Same thing. I always on [Marques] Colston most of the time. I thank the coaches for that now because it helped me out playing taller receivers. I'm going to need that playing in the NFC North. He always was the slot guy. And my coaches would put me against Jimmy Graham, too. They told me to get in his face, press him and try to knock off his timing off so Drew Brees couldn't find him."

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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
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Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
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