Captain Munnerlyn has been one of the key leaders and most consistent members of the Vikings secondary since he signed a three-year, $14.25 million deal in 2014. Since that signing, Munnerlyn has missed just one game, because of a sprained ankle this season, and he has had tackle totals of 60 in 2014, 55 in 2015 and 49 so far this season.
Munnerlyn’s arrival coincided with the hiring of coach Mike Zimmer, and Munnerlyn has fit into Zimmer’s schemes from the first season. Still, Munnerlyn said that the most recent stretch of losing five games out of six has been difficult.
“It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever been through in life, especially playing this game of football. It was definitely tough,” Munnerlyn said. “We didn’t play our best football, and I’m glad we’re out of the skid. We’re on the up-rise and trying to get better each and every week.”
Munnerlyn, like Zimmer earlier this week, said that the most aggravating part of the streak was that the team was in every single game.
“That’s the crazy thing about it, and that’s the thing that hurt. We were in every single game but we always shot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “We always beat ourselves. We didn’t execute well or we didn’t make a play here or there and we fell a little short.”
Munnerlyn said that the team’s win over Jacksonville last Sunday was not only necessary for its playoff chances but got the team in the right frame of mind.
“We still have got a couple more games left, three more, but Sunday definitely was a confidence booster,” he said. “We finally finished a game out, offense put up some points, and we got the win.”
Does that kind of win change the locker room?
“Oh yeah, especially when you get a win, you know, most guys are walking around, they’re smiling, they want to talk to the media, like you folks, and they want to talk to different folks,” Munnerlyn said. “But if you lose everybody is moping around, coaches are not happy, but at the same time we know we still have business to take care of now. We have to win this game on Sunday.”
Munnerlyn and the defensive backfield will be tasked with one of their biggest challenges of the year, stopping former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck. Munnerlyn explained what makes him so difficult.
“Andrew Luck is one of the best in the business,” he said. “He definitely can throw the ball all around, he can make every throw on the field. And he is a guy who can make play with his legs, he can scramble and find open receivers.”
Still, Munnerlyn believes the defensive backs are up to the task.
“We’re playing better. I think we’re ranked like No. 3 in the NFL right now against the pass,” he said. “There’s some things we’d like to clean up, we’d like to cut down on the penalties, try to make plays when they come to you. We can’t press too hard and try to do another man’s job. We have to make plays when they come to you, and we have to execute.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the secondary, though, is not who is there but who is not there, and that includes safety Harrison Smith, who will miss his second game because of a severely sprained ankle.
“Miss him a lot, he’s like our quarterback back there,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s a guy that gets everybody lined up and gets everybody going. When he’s back there he’s got you. We have guys that can step up and definitely play his role, but at the same time it’s tough. It’s Harrison.
“He’s one of the best safeties in the game. Missing him is definitely hurting a little bit, but at the same time we have to have a next-man-up mentality.”
Speaking of that next man up, Munnerlyn talked about how well Anthony Harris stepped into the difficult role of filling in for Smith last week.
“He played pretty well. To come in behind a Pro Bowler guy like Harrison Smith, he definitely stepped up and made some big-time plays for us last week,” he said.
Contract is up
Munnerlyn is one of a large number of Vikings who will be unrestricted free agents next season, but he said that he has found a culture here that he wants to stay in.
“I want to stay here, even though the weather is cold,” Munnerlyn said, laughing. “I like the team and I like the coaches and I like the staff and this organization. This is a great organization. … I kind of fell in love with it.”
He said that he has been fortunate to play in two great organizations in the Carolina Panthers and the Vikings, adding that not every organization is as open to its players as the Vikings have been.
“I think this organization really shows you that they care. The owners come around and speak to everybody, and after the games they’re in the locker room with you, letting you know you’re doing a great job,” he said. “Things like that. Very rarely do you see owners in the locker room like that. I’ve been fortunate to be on teams where the owners do come in the locker room.”
• Adrian Peterson’s return could provide a real gain to the Vikings offense, even though Peterson averaged just 1.6 yards on 31 carries in the first two games of the season before injuring his right knee. Those two games featured Shaun Hill starting for injured Teddy Bridgewater and the first start of Sam Bradford’s career with the Vikings. If Peterson can be anywhere near his career average of 4.9 yards per carry it would be a large improvement over the team’s 3.1 yards per carry this season without Peterson. Peterson said last week that he’s ready to find out whether he’s healthy enough to help the team. “That’s kind of hard to say, because in my mind it’s a little easy to go out and go through the first level of being able to cut and run and do some football movements,” he said. “And then you move over to practice, and now you have bodies in front of you and you do the same movements, but it’s nothing like being out there and guys dogging and hitting at your legs and things like that. I can’t really answer that.”
• Former Gophers coach Jerry Kill has told me that he would consider the right assistant coaching job if it was offered, and now rumors are that Rutgers might offer him its offensive coordinator spot.
• In favor of the Gophers basketball schedule is the fact that they will play Michigan State twice in the first five games of the Big Ten season and currently the Spartans are struggling. … Also, as of the current AP Top 25 rankings, the Gophers have only four ranked opponents on their schedule: No. 15 Purdue, No. 14 Wisconsin, twice, and No. 9 Indiana.
• Joe Haeg, the Lake Shore, Minn., native who played at North Dakota State and was a fifth-round draft pick this year for the Colts, has started 11 games on the offensive line and will start on Sunday against the Vikings.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org