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Vikings focused on pass defense: take CB Waynes

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Their pass defense jumped from 31st to seventh in the league in 2014, but the Minnesota Vikings weren’t satisfied with their secondary. So they targeted Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes with the 11th overall draft pick, fielded several offers to trade down and ultimately stayed put because they didn’t want to risk losing the guy they think will help them overtake the quarterbacks and the big receivers that rule the NFC North.

As if Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson and Alshon Jeffery weren’t enough proof that big corners are needed to deal with the division’s big receivers, the Bears ignored their many defensive needs to select big West Virginia receiver Kevin White seventh overall.

“You watch Chicago take the receiver from West Virginia at (No. 7), and knowing the receivers that we face in Green Bay and knowing the receivers that we face in Detroit … we’re going to have to play some good defense (to win),” General Manager Rick Spielman said. “We were able to really improve last year and I think adding a player like Trae Waynes will definitely upgrade our defense. And having a guy at a position that’s in coach (Mike) Zimmer’s wheelhouse is even better.”

With Zimmer paying special attention to the secondary in his first season as head coach, the Vikings had several defensive backs make progress a year ago. Xavier Rhodes, a first-round pick in 2013, made huge strides, growing into a confident 6-foot-2, 210-pound shutdown corner who shadowed the opponent’s top receiver late in the season.

Captain Munnerlyn, a free-agent acquisition before last season, was inconsistent to the point that Zimmer and Spielman said after the season that Munnerlyn is better suited to be the No. 3 corner only. Last year, Munnerlyn started and moved inside over the slot in the nickel. That brought Josh Robinson onto the field on the outside in the nickel. And although Robinson improved overall last season, he was exposed during an embarrassing performance in a loss at Chicago.

The Vikings said they won’t pressure Waynes to start immediately, but that’s obviously the goal as Zimmer starts to work his magic this offseason. If Waynes can’t start right away, the team signed Zimmer’s old pal Terence Newman as insurance. Newman will be 37 in September but he has years of experience with Zimmer in Dallas and Cincinnati.

Waynes is 6-foot, 186 pounds with long arms and a 4.31 40-yard dash as the fastest corner at the combine.

“When you look at his physical traits,” said Spielman, “he has the length, the speed, the ability to play man coverage. It fits exactly what we’re looking for in corners in this scheme. The overall package with Trae was everything we were looking for.”

Zimmer downplayed Waynes’ height and preferred to focus on his cover ability. He also said he expects every player to contend for a starting job. But he also made it clear that he was nervous that Waynes would be taken in the top 10 by a few teams, including the defensively-challenged Bears at No. 7.

“We weren’t sure what would happen,” Zimmer said. “I know for the last week we’ve been kind of sweating that he might go before we get a chance to pick him.”

The Vikings didn’t hide their interest in Waynes. Spielman and Zimmer put him through a private workout at Michigan State and the Vikings also invited him to Winter Park as part of their Top 30 visit.

“Yeah,” said Waynes, who had six interceptions in 27 career starts at MSU, “I could tell they liked me.”


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