Terence Newman smiled.
“You trying to get me to move to safety?”
Well, yes. Eventually.
Newman is the Vikings’ 37-year-old cornerback and, surprisingly, one of their most important players. He may have been brought in as a temporary starter and mentor. He has performed like someone who deserves to see the inside of the new stadium.
Last week in Arizona, Newman shifted to safety because of injuries. With Harrison Smith out for Sunday’s game against the Bears, Newman could wind up there again.
Newman has retained enough speed to play corner. With his experience in coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, he could lengthen his career and strengthen the Vikings’ secondary by playing safety.
Since 2012, the Vikings’ safeties have been named Harrison Smith and Not Harrison Smith. Newman could change that. He’s playing under a one-year contract. If he can finish the season strong and the Vikings can sign him to play next to Smith next year, they could move first-round draft pick Trae Waynes into a starting cornerback job and focus their resources on offensive line and receiver.
Newman could become the Vikings’ version of Charles Woodson, the Raiders and Packers great who moved from cornerback to safety at the age of 36 and still is excelling at 39.
“All options are in play in the future,” Newman said. “I think I can still play corner. I can play safety. I’ll do whatever a team asks me to do. I’m still having fun playing football. My biggest thing is trying to stay in the door.”
He’s performed well enough to earn compliments that aren’t tempered by the phrase “at his age.”
“He’s as good a person and a pro as I’ve ever seen in this league,” linebacker Chad Greenway said.
“He is top of the line, as first-class a kid as you’d ever want to meet,” Zimmer said.
“ ‘T’ is a veteran, man,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He could steal some years back there.”
The Wall Street Journal featured Newman’s affinity for red wine this week. Newman has recommended its perceived health benefits to the other defensive backs. He and Smith will drink pinot noir while watching “Monday Night Football.”
“That really started as a joke,” Newman said. “Although I do like to meet up with the fellas and have a glass.”
Newman’s combination of speed and intelligence probably has more to do with his success. A track star at Kansas State, Newman still can run with most NFL receivers, even though he has no salable training tips.
During the offseason he works out at LA Fitness and plays basketball three times a week. He has taken up yoga.
“When you get to a certain age, you need to preserve your legs,” he said.
And increase your knowledge.
A former Cowboy, Newman returned to Dallas after the Arizona game. He studied the Bears on his iPad on his flights, and when he returned to Minnesota, he headed straight for the practice facility, where he studied some more.
“We had a Christmas party, and I was in here watching film,” Newman said. “It’s a big game this week.”
Where was the party? “Mall of America,” he said. “I didn’t go. I didn’t know there was a Christmas party until I got here.”
If the Vikings still are playing after decorations are torn down, Newman will probably be an important reason, whether he’s playing cornerback or safety, and whether he really views red wine as a performance enhancer or merely a conversation enabler.