Trae Waynes won’t start against the 49ers and the rookie Vikings corner might not play more than a handful of defensive snaps in his NFL debut.
But coach Mike Zimmer believes the first-round pick is on the right track.
“Yeah, he’s improved quite a bit,” Zimmer said yesterday. “He’s doing a good job and it’s still part of the process. He’s going to be a good player.”
After getting flagged three times in the preseason opener, Waynes didn’t commit another penalty in the team’s final four preseason games. Zimmer believes Waynes has a better sense now of what’s a penalty and what’s not.
He also thinks Waynes is getting a better understanding that unlike in the college game, a cushion of even a yard or two is open in the NFL.
“I think he figured it out a little bit after the first week, but I think all of the preseason was good for him, just understanding how close you have to be to a guy. If I’m from that far away,” Zimmer said, gesturing to a Vikings employee holding a boom mic a few feet away, “the ball is a completion.”
There is no questioning Waynes’ straight-line speed. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds, tops among defensive backs at this year’s combine.
But one of the knocks on him was his agility and change-of-direction skills, and that was reinforced by his 26th-place finish in the three-cone drill.
Zimmer acknowledged that it was a concern to some, perhaps even himself. But he feels Waynes has “gotten better” at getting in and out of his breaks.
“The biggest thing that I’ve noticed about most college guys when they come, the guy will break and the ball is not there,” he said. “And in the NFL, when you break, you better be humping because that ball is going to get there and that’s the biggest difference for guys covering, in my opinion, in the NFL. … So that’s kind of the area where he’s working on now.”
So the education of Trae Waynes, far from a finished product, continues.