It’s impressive when a professional football player dives for an interception during a voluntary organized team activity three months or so before the start of games that matter.
When that professional football player is standing on the stoop of his 38th birthday, well, that’s even more of a head-turner.
Zygi Wilf must agree. The Vikings owner flashed a smile and a thumbs up when cornerback Terence Newman did just that during Wednesday’s OTA practice at Winter Park.
“Like fine wine,” Wilf called out to Newman, referring to the 14-year veteran’s claims that red wine contributes to his NFL longevity.
A few snaps later, 23-year-old Trae Waynes stepped into the huddle as Newman’s backup. Waynes is in his second season after being selected 11th overall in the first round of last year’s NFL draft.
Some grumble when a high first round pick is still a backup heading into Year 2. Perhaps some should see the wine bottle as half full instead.
Depth at cornerback is vital in the NFL. That’s true in general and in particular for teams that get to fight Aaron Rodgers twice a year for division titles. So as long as Newman keeps turning his career hourglass over, the Vikings enjoy the enviable situation of having a wily veteran starting at left corner and a 6-foot, 190-pound first-round talent being fully groomed behind him.
Defensive coordinator George Edwards was asked Wednesday what the expectations are for Waynes this season.
“We expect him to continue to compete,” he said. “He’s doing a good job this offseason. He seems to have recalled a lot from his first year. He’s learned a lot. Just continue to work on the fundamentals and the techniques that we’re working between the different concepts that we have coverage-wise in and to take the next step. Take the next step awareness-wise, competition-wise, being able to recall it when we get out here on the field and make plays.”
Waynes has come a long, long way since that first preseason game a year ago in Canton, Ohio, when he was flagged three times in a 14-3 win over the Steelers. Consider it a good thing that he got a season’s worth of slow, steady grooming during a year in which the Vikings won 11 games and a division title.
“When a young player comes in, especially a rookie … [he's] not only learning what we’re doing schematically and technique and fundamental-wise, but also the college game is so much different than the professional game,” Edwards said. “I think there’s a learning curve in there, a lot more so than it used to be years before. [Waynes] has gotten acclimated to what he’s going to see week-to-week, the different concepts that we have and technique and fundamental-wise. We want to be able to apply those things.”
In other words, he might not be one of the top two corners on the team at this point. But he’s ready for that challenge as Newman gets closer to squeezing the last red drop out of his career.