EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — At 35 years old, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield certainly isn’t the same player he was at age 27, his first year in Minnesota. That’s to be expected, though, when football players get older.
But thanks to added weekly rest this season, Winfield has been able to stay fresh — and that means he’s staying on the field on Sundays.
Winfield is Minnesota’s oldest player by three years. Defensive lineman Kevin Williams is next on the seniority list at 32. Winfield’s 14 years in the league also trumps all of his teammates. But after playing just five games last year due to injury, Winfield has played in all 12 of Minnesota’s games so far this season, including 11 starts.
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Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has scaled back Winfield’s weekly workload this season. The veteran cornerback credits that for his ability to stay on the field.
“It’s meant everything. I think the grind during the week is really what wears you down during the season,” Winfield said Friday. “Me not having to worry about that, just go and watch film, take mental reps on the sideline, I’m fresh on Sundays, ready to run around and make plays.”
The idea wasn’t something Winfield initiated, he said. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams approached Winfield at the beginning of the season about scaling back in practice.
The benefit is evident when looking at Winfield’s production. His three interceptions are the most since 2006. He has 61 tackles in 12 games and has defended eight passes so far this year, his highest total since 2008.
“I think it’s really helped, when you look at the fact that he’s still playing at a high level this late in the season and you consider what’s happened in the past,” Frazier said of Winfield. “We’ve taken a different approach with him, and I think it’s worked out to our benefit. It’s great to have him on the field, in the meetings, playing in games and playing well. The rest has to have played a major part in that.”
Winfield isn’t the only veteran who has been limited in practice but able to play come game day. Frazier said Friday that everyone on the Vikings’ injury report will be probable for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.
That includes 30-year-old defensive end Jared Allen, who missed back-to-back practices this week due to back spasms. He’s still expected to play Sunday against Chicago after taking some time this week to rest. Allen hasn’t missed a game yet this year despite various nagging injuries.
“Honestly, you play through things every year. You really do,” said Allen, who has nine sacks in 12 games this season after leading the league with 22 last year. “For me, I haven’t had this abundance, never this much on me in one year. We’ve got a great training staff here. The coaching staff does a good job of when I need to rest, they rest me. And come Sunday, I’m always 100 percent on Sundays, no matter what the issue is.”
At this point in the season, the daily grind of practices can add up, especially for veterans like Winfield, Allen and running back Adrian Peterson, who suffered a torn ACL last year. Finding a balance for how often to rest them is something Frazier has to figure out each week.
“You want to be able to do that, not only with Jared but Kevin Williams is another guy. Obviously Adrian because of coming back from injury and playing as hard as he’s been playing,” Frazier said. “Some of those veterans who have a number of years in our league, you want to kind of keep an eye on how they’re practicing, the number of reps they’re getting.
“You’re trying to get the most out of them on Sundays, so you do have to be conscious of putting a lot of reps on them, especially if you’re expecting a lot from them in a ballgame.”