Timeout with Captain Munnerlyn

Posted Nov 30, 2016

Captain Munnerlyn supports respect for the nickel position’s role in the NFL and the work that the March of Dimes does for premature babies.

Munnerlyn was born three months early and had quite the struggle. At 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, he’s small in stature but has a large heart.

The Vikings defense has improved in the past two seasons since Head Coach Mike Zimmer moved Munnerlyn inside as part of an overhaul, and Munnerlyn has enjoyed the role.

We caught up with Munnerlyn for a recent Timeout.

Q: What do you love about the nickel position?

A: I just love the competitiveness about it. They always put the quickest guys on the offense in there, and it kind of shows you my toughness, too, because you’ve got to be able to tackle. If you play the nickel position and can’t tackle, you’re definitely in trouble because teams will run the ball at you, and if you’re not a physical guy, it can show. I can show that I’m a small guy but very tough.

Q: Some teams match up bigger guys against you, but Dallas’ Cole Beasley is actually shorter than you and leads them in receptions. What’s he been able to do?

A: Oh, he’s special. He’s a very special slot guy. He’s quick in and out of the cuts, and I know you’ve got to have great discipline and eyes with this guy. If you don’t, you can be in trouble, so I’ve got to have great eyes, keep my eyes on him and try to make plays on the football.

Q: Is it easier to defend a bigger target like a tight end or a smaller receiver like Beasley?

A: I think it’s kind of easier to defend a bigger guy because those guys know they’re just going to try to out-physical me. They don’t know that I’m a very strong person. I like being physical, too, but when you play a quicker guy, you’ve definitely got to be on your Ps and Qs and have clean eyes. If you don’t have clean eyes, they can hurt you because they’re in and out of cuts so fast. One split second, if you look back, you’re beat, so it’s tough to play those guys, but the bigger guys just try to muscle you and, I call it, put a big body on you and try to box you out for the football. I like playing the bigger guys, but at the same time, I like playing the smaller guys, too, just to show my worth and that I can be one of the best in the league to do this.

Q: It seems like your relationship with Coach Zimmer has grown stronger in the past three seasons. Why has that flourished?

A: I think my first year, I was kind of a knucklehead. I had been in a system for five years in Carolina, and I was kind of stuck in my ways. Zim’ is a great coach, and he’s got a different style of football than I was previously introduced to. I kind of just bought into the system in my second year. Me buying into the system and making plays and doing things that he likes his defensive players to do kind of helped our relationship grow. If I wasn’t playing well, he would definitely let me know. I knew I had to go out there and buy into the system and play within the defense. If you do that, if you’re making plays, Coach Zim’ is all for that. He’s always for a guy who is making plays, who is trying to make the defense better and make this team better, so I try to do that, go out and compete at a high level so we can have a better relationship.

Q: I think you’re around him on the sidelines a little more now than in your first year here.

A: Yeah, just to see what he sees. He’s a very smart guy. He eats, sleeps, dreams football. That’s his life, so I definitely think he knows more than I do. I’m always trying to pick other guys’ brains, and he’s a guy that I would always like to talk to about what’s going on in a game and what he sees that can take my game to the next level.

Q: What do you remember from your fumble return for a touchdown at Lambeau Field last season?

A: Oh man, it was big for our team to win that division. I never heard a whistle, so I scooped it up and was like, ‘It’s time to get into the end zone.’ The previous week we played New York, and I caught an interception and got it to the [4-yard line]. I was like, ‘This time, I’ve got to get it to the end zone. Guys were on me about not scoring.’

Q: What did it mean to win the division when a lot of people doubted the Vikings and can that help this year down the stretch?

A: This team is very strong. It starts with our front office and our head coach and the people in this building. When people always doubt us, it seems like we play our best football. It’s just the mentality of our head coach. He lets us know, ‘If people don’t believe in you, it’s OK. We believe in each other in this room so let’s show these people what we’re capable of doing.’ Right now, we’re not in the perfect position. We let a game slip last week, so we’ve got to take care of business from now on out. We’ve got to take one game at a time and see where it takes us from here.

Q: The T-shirts with your profile caused a buzz during training camp. How surprising was it when they busted those out for you?

A: It was surprising, but I’ve been screaming, you know, I feel like I’ve been the best nickel in the league for a while. Me being able to focus on that position and being a guy that takes a lot of pride in that position and trying to promote the nickel backs. I feel like the nickel backs never get love. People will say, ‘Man, this defense.’ They talk about the defense but they never say, ‘Oh, and they’ve also got a great nickel,’ so I go out there and try to prove a point. The nickel back is a position that you’ve got to have on a football team to play these receivers. The league is changing to a passing league. I’m playing almost 90 percent of the snaps when I’m on the field, so why don’t we get love? To see my teammates wear the shirts and the PR people who got the shirts was awesome.

Q: You’re trying to campaign for that position to be added to the Pro Bowl, but nothing yet…

A: I’m going to keep fighting. If I’m gone and retired and all of a sudden it happened, I’d be happy for it. I’m still trying to campaign for the nickel position. It should definitely be in the Pro Bowl. We’re like starters.

Q: You’ve had to work and fight for everything you’ve gotten and are often undersized against the player you are guarding. Where does that spirit come from?

A: I think it comes from my family and my mom. I’ve been doubted my whole life, being a premature baby, them saying I wasn’t going to live, and growing up in the projects, a single-parent home with brothers in and out of jail. My mom changed and saved her life. She found God and it really changed our whole family. A bad situation happened in my family, and it changed the whole family. My mom put God into my life, and I fell in love with that and with the church. Being doubted, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. Being a 5-9 guy and told I can’t play this game called football, I’m a little guy, but I play this big game, so I always have this chip on my shoulder, and I think that chip stays there. It keeps me hungry and makes me want to fight for everything. So, I go out there and try to fight for my teammates, fight for my coaches and fight for this organization.

Q: Describe your efforts with March of Dimes.

A: I just think it was something that I was called to do to let the kids know that anything is possible. Me going from a premature baby to the NFL, it’s like, “Wow.” You look at premature babies, you look at the situations, people have a lot of different things going wrong with them, but you let them know, if you put your mind to it, anything is possible, so I try to give back any time I can and visit any event I can to reach out to the parents and kids and let them know anything is possible if you put your mind to it, pray, and God will take care of the rest.

Q: You also gave back to your high school and they retired your jersey this offseason?

A: Yeah, it was a pretty penny — ($50,000) — just to let them know that a small kid from Mobile, Alabama, where they say you’re not supposed to make it out, let them know that anything is possible. That would be my message. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it. I was in those same seats in high school, and the same people that told me I wasn’t going to make it might still be around and telling you that. I made it out, and now I’m in the NFL, playing my eighth season.

Q: This team has encountered a ton of challenges this season. How can that mindset help down the stretch?

A: It’s going to help us a lot. We’ve been through the ups, the downs. We’ve been 5-0, real high, and we’ve lost a lot of games in a row, so it helps us a lot. We’ve been through it all. Now, we’ve just got to get hot at the right time.