After up-and-down season, Vikings CB Munnerlyn vows to play better in 2015

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (right) intercepts a pass in front of WashingtonRedskins wide receiver Andre Roberts during a 29-26 home win Nov. 2.

Ann Heisenfelt/Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Captain Munnerlyn’s brash, outspoken nature was apparent immediately as soon as the 5-foot-9 cornerback signed with the Minnesota Vikings last year.

Munnerlyn’s confidence might have got the better of him in his first season with Minnesota.

One of the more candid Vikings players during the season, Munnerlyn didn’t feel he played to his expectations in his first year with Minnesota and, perhaps, didn’t feel he listened enough to the teaching of coach Mike Zimmer.

"I wouldn’t say I didn’t listen," Munnerlyn said a day after the season-ending win against the Chicago Bears. "I just went out there and tried to make a couple plays my way and sometimes it didn’t work."

Munnerlyn was brought to the Vikings to be the veteran leader of the secondary, which he accomplished in a vocal way. Leading with his play on the field was bit of a mix, however, as he sometimes found himself as the cornerback opposing offenses looked to with second-year player Xavier Rhodes stepping forward this season and third-year player Josh Robinson showing progress under Zimmer.

Munnerlyn, 26, was seventh on the team with 60 tackles. He was third for Minnesota with two interceptions and fifth on the team with four pass deflections.

"I’m definitely below my expectations," Munnerlyn said. "On the field I feel like I didn’t play well at all. I feel like it’s one of my worst years of football. At the same time, I feel like I helped a lot of guys being that leader in the secondary. I think we finished seventh, that’s a big difference from last year even though I didn’t play my best football.

"You put in that I played my best football, we might be No. 1. So, it was just some stuff I got to evaluate, study a little bit more in the offseason and get myself ready for next year."

Photos of the Week: 1/11/15-1/17/15

With the progress, and health, at cornerback, the Vikings went from allowing the second-most passing yards in the league in 2013 (287.2 yards per game) to giving up the seventh-fewest (223.3 yards per game).

Munnerlyn was signed to a three-year, $11.25 million contract to make an impact on the field, too. He played all 16 games for the third straight season, but his four pass deflections were the fewest since his rookie season. He dropped from 74 tackles and 12 pass deflections last year with the Carolina Panthers.

"Sometimes you expect some things right away from those (unrestricted free agents) but also sometimes those guys will take a potential year to understand what’s being asked of them," Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman said last week. "I know Captain stated he was disappointed in his year and everybody expects him to play a higher level next year."

There were undertones all season that Munnerlyn wasn’t always doing things the way Zimmer preferred.

Asked about Munnerlyn’s season, Zimmer said, "It was up and down, I think. He had some good games and some rough games. But he has the ability to do what we’re asking him to do, if he does it."

Munnerlyn seemed to recognize the missteps in evaluating his season.

"Make more plays on the ball and listen to coach Zim more," Munnerlyn said about what he needs to improve.

He later guaranteed he will have a better season in 2015. Munnerlyn will count as a $3.833 million salary cap hit, but believes he will be back in Minnesota despite his down season.

"It’s a year-to-year league but I’m sure I’ll be back," Munnerlyn said. "I just got to have more production next year. That’s what the league is about. It’s about production. If you’re not producing, it’s hard to pay somebody that’s not producing. So I just got to evaluate my situation, in the offseason work even harder and come back ready."

The Vikings still don’t have much depth at the position. They were blessed with health at cornerback, having Rhodes, Robinson and Munnerlyn play a large majority of the snaps this season. Minnesota rarely went to a dime look with four cornerbacks on the field.

Spielman said Munnerlyn was asked to do more than was expected when the cornerback was signed. Munnerlyn had a history of solid play while lining up inside against slot receivers. Munnerlyn’s presence allowed the team to keep Robinson on the outside.

"I thought Captain had an up-and-down year," Spielman said. "I think Captain learned a little bit of the new system. We signed Captain as a nickel and he ended up having to be a full-time starter for us. I thought he had some struggles this year but I think he has the potential."

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