After another spring practice with the first-team defense Wednesday, followed by a few minutes of catch with a teammate, Mackensie Alexander attempted to loop around the assembled media for the safety — and air conditioning — of the locker room.
When a pesky reporter picked him off to inquire about his quiet rookie season, the young cornerback was courteous but not particularly colorful as he talked about being more comfortable in his second NFL season, how he has matured over the past year, how he is ready to do anything he can to help the Vikings win more games.
Seconds before the voice recorder was about to be powered off, Alexander, the glare of the sun off his clear helmet visor obscuring his eyes, suddenly opened up.
"Not playing as much as I wanted to, I did that to myself last year," he said.
The 23-year-old admitted that at times during his rookie year, he tuned out words of wisdom and instructions from Mike Zimmer, who had a reputation as a defensive backs guru while becoming a successful defensive coordinator and then the Vikings head coach.
Alexander, who boldly declared at last year's NFL scouting combine that he was the best cover cornerback in the 2016 draft, believed he should be matching up with top wide receivers on the outside instead of lining up in the slot as a nickelback. So when asked to learn both positions in Zimmer's complex scheme, Alexander neglected the latter.
"I was very resistant," he said. "I didn't want to learn nickel, and they knew that."
'You live and learn'
While Alexander locked down top targets all over the field while starring at Clemson, the Vikings projected the cocky corner as a future NFL standout in the slot. So they picked him in the second round to be the eventual replacement for veteran Captain Munnerlyn, instead of addressing their offensive line or another position of need.
Alexander was symbolic of the Vikings' "wait until next year" theme for that 2016 draft class.
They dealt their third-rounder for a pair of 2017 picks and threw a late-round dart at Moritz Bohringer, an athletic wideout from Germany with limited football experience.
Top pick Laquon Treadwell was the only Vikings rookie with a clear path to significant playing time, but his seemingly inevitable ascent to a starting receiver spot was thwarted by injuries both nagging and new. The 2016 class combined for only 301 snaps on offense or defense as the Vikings, who faded down the stretch, finished 8-8.
Alexander got snaps on defense in nine of 13 games before going on injured reserve in December because of an abdomen injury, but he logged only 68 total snaps, in part because of his stubbornness but mostly because Munnerlyn was again solid.
In the only game that Munnerlyn missed during his three years in Minnesota, a November loss to the Redskins, it was Terence Newman, not Alexander, who filled in for him.
It was around that time Alexander realized he needed to be a little less hardheaded and trust in the vision the Vikings scouting staff and coaches had for him.
"I mean, my gifts and my abilities are unquestionable. Everybody knows that by now. But in this league everybody has talent," Alexander said. "For me, it was tough last year. Of course. I'm a competitor. I want to win. I want to play. … So it was tough. But you live and learn, and this year is going to be a different outcome for me."
Good start to 2017
By all accounts, Alexander has gotten off to an encouraging start this spring.
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound cornerback received the bulk of the first-team snaps at Munnerlyn's old spot during the two organized team activities open to media. With a newfound fervor to master that position, mental mistakes have been minimal.
He has been picking the brain of the 38-year-old Newman. Newman has seen pretty much everything in his 15 seasons — the drama-filled 2016 presumably checked off several boxes — and insisted that Alexander playing sparingly as a rookie was actually a blessing in disguise.
"Being able to sit back a little bit and learn is probably one of the greatest things you can do as an NFL player coming in," Newman said. "Time and time again, some guys come in and are asked to do a lot, and they get shell-shocked and they never ever recover because they have no confidence. It's hard to get that back sometimes."
And Zimmer was so impressed by how much Alexander has matured that he asked him to speak with this year's crop of rookies. Alexander implored them to not do "the things I did wrong last year," including not always being on time, and to have faith in the coaches "because they see what they've got in you and what you can do."
"Hopefully some of these rookies were listening," Zimmer said last week.
Like clockwork, the latest draft class, led by speedy running back Dalvin Cook, has the fan base buzzing. But for the Vikings to get back to the playoffs in 2017, they likely need Alexander and the rest of the 2016 class to step up in their second seasons.
"It was hard for a lot of us to sit down and wait," Alexander said, speaking for whole eight-man group. "But this year is a different year with new opportunities."