There isn’t a player on the Vikings more familiar with coach Mike Zimmer than cornerback Terence Newman. The 38-year-old is entering his 15th NFL season, his career starting in Dallas when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells and the Cowboys selected Newman fifth overall in the 2003 draft.
The two have worked together off and on ever since. They were together four seasons with Dallas before Zimmer took the same position with the Atlanta Falcons. Newman signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent in 2012, reuniting with Zimmer before he became Vikings coach in 2014.
One year later, Newman signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Vikings. He signed another one-year deal in 2016 worth $3.1 million and then once again resigned this March to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million.
So, does Newman see any differences in Zimmer from his rookie year to his 15th season?
“He’s pretty much the same guy,” he said. “I think he may be getting a little softer with his old age, but he’s still hard-nosed and he’s kind of from the tree of coach Parcells. Both of them are tough-nosed, and demand a lot, but they care about their players.”
Newman recalled that first year in Dallas, when the Cowboys were coming off three consecutive 5-11 seasons and hired Parcells to take over the team. They finished 10-6 and reached the playoffs. Newman was a standout rookie, finishing with 76 tackles, four interceptions and one fumble recovery.
“We led the league in total defense my first year there,” Newman recalled. “[Zimmer] has a crazy ability to get guys to play better than they have been playing. He has gotten a lot of guys throughout the years, Dallas, Atlanta, Cincinnati and here, to play really good football.”
Newman said he relishes the chance to keep playing and being productive. He is a two-time Pro Bowl player and is also second on the active list for career interceptions with 41.
“I’m not getting any younger but still having a lot of fun,” he said. “You know, I’m just trying to compete with these guys and teach them as much as I can and kind of pass on some of the things I’ve seen to the younger guys.”
Newman finished last season with 38 tackles in 15 games. He had eight pass deflections and one interception, keeping up his streak of having at least one pick in each of his NFL seasons.
Still, he thinks that this season will bring about some changes for him.
“We have a lot of young guys and now I’m at the very end of my career, so I can be more of a mentor,” Newman said. “A lot of other teams have had some guys that have played six-plus years and now it’s a really young team, especially in the secondary. I can help out the corners a lot more.”
When asked if he looks back at any one particular highlight, Newman said he’s still waiting for the big one.
“The highlight is getting the opportunity to play in this league,” he said. “My highlight won’t be until I win a Super Bowl. That’s the only highlight I’ll have. But having a chance to play in this league has been my one highlight for sure. Everything else, to me my ultimate highlight would be sharing a Super Bowl with my teammates. That’s the only other highlight I can fathom.”
Does he think this could be the year?
“I think that’s the goal of every team every year, and to say otherwise you’re not really being honest with yourself,” he said. “We’re definitely wanting to make the Super Bowl, but we have a long way before that and a lot of work to do.”
Passing game changes
When Newman entered the NFL it was a much different game. In 2003, the Indianapolis Colts led the league in passing with 261 yards per game; in 2016 the Saints held that title with 317.
“When I first came into the league I had Roy Williams and Darren Woodson at safety,” Newman said. “I used to play outside leverage and their guys would come inside because those are two big hitters,” he said. “Then a couple years later they made the emphasis on illegal contact, which obviously made it a lot tougher on the DBs and we used to chuck guys down the field a little bit and ride them, but it wasn’t a big deal.
“I think people want to see more long touchdown passes, more passing, it’s a little easier for sure for the receivers and whatnot, and also when a guy used to get hit across the middle it used to be the quarterbacks fault for throwing it and now they’re trying to help with the head injuries, which I understand. It’s just a different game than when I came in.”
So does he think that the rules are too favorable to the offense?
“I think it just makes the game more exciting for fans,” Newman said. “Is it more favorable? Yeah but also no, you just have to be better at your craft on defense and take that challenge.”
When asked if the Vikings can continue to improve defensively — going from 14th in total defense in 2014 to 13th in 2015 and third last season — Newman wasn’t ready to make any promises.
“Do I think so? Of course,” he said. “Will we do it? That remains to be seen. Talk is cheap and all of the finalities are in what you do. So like I said we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do but that’s our goal.”
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