Lunch Break

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Lunchbreak: Waynes Holding His Own in Vikings Secondary

Posted Jan 12, 2018

The Vikings defense features a pair of All-Pro players in the secondary and have other Pro Bowlers littered throughout the unit.

But perhaps the most improved player is third-year cornerback Trae Waynes, who has steadily grown from special teams standout to starter to one of the most reliable players on the defense. 

Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune recently wrote that while Waynes may not garner the same amount of hype as his teammates, he has evolved into an integral part of the unit.

Scoggins wrote:

Waynes’ improvement has flown under the radar because of the star power surrounding him. He tied [Harrison] Smith for the team lead with 14 pass breakups, with two interceptions and four tackles for loss.

The biggest compliment comes in the form of [Vikings Head Coach] Mike Zimmer’s trust. Zimmer has nearly doubled Waynes’ playing time while reducing the amount of help he provides him in coverage.

“There was a lot of times earlier in the year I was helping him a lot,” Zimmer said. “I’m not doing that very much anymore. So, he’s been out there on his own, and I actually think that’s part of the reason why the defensive numbers have come down quite a bit. Because of the way these corners cover on the back end.”

Scoggins noted that Waynes’ stead play has forced headaches on opposing offenses.

With All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes on one side of the field, teams regularly looked Waynes’ way to avoid Rhodes. But with Waynes elevating his own play, teams have been hesitant to consistently throw his way.

Rhodes’ reputation causes teams to throw away from him. That puts additional pressure on Waynes, who was targeted 102 times this season, tied for fifth-most among all NFL cornerbacks, according to ProFootballFocus.com. The Vikings finished No. 2 in pass defense, so that plan didn’t have much success.

“Oh man, he’s showing,” Rhodes said of Waynes. “I’m proud of that guy. He’s definitely showing everyone that he can be one of the best in the league.”

Waynes, the 11th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, tied for second on the Vikings with two interceptions along with Rhodes and safety Andrew Sendejo.

Depth, versatility key to success on offensive line

The Vikings used seven different starting offensive line combinations during the regular season, just one less than the number Minnesota used during a frustrating 2016 season.

But there was a stark difference between the two seasons as the Vikings had improved offensive numbers in the running game, passing game and sacks allowed in 2017.

John Holler of Viking Update took a look at the unit and said the versatility of linemen such as Rashod Hill, Jeremiah Sirles, Joe Berger and Mike Remmers has allowed Minnesota to rarely miss a beat while plugging in players here and there throughout the season.

Holler wrote:

The key to surviving the injury bug when it has struck is that the Vikings offensive line has been created with versatility in mind. [Riley] Reiff and [Pat] Elflein are the only players who have seen time at only one position. Both Elflein and Berger have been starting NFL centers. Sirles has seen time at every position except center. Hill has started at both tackle spots in his short Vikings career.

It is that position flexibility and versatility that has helped the team work their way through injuries as they have arisen without a significant drop-off in talent or production.

“It’s something that has been valuable for us this season,” Hill said. “We have so many guys that are capable of playing different positions. I can play both sides. Jeremiah can play guard or tackle. In the last game, we saw that Remmers could do the same thing. We had three guys that had played center. It’s great to have guys that are versatile and can do different things. It helps a lot.”

The cohesion of the Vikings O-line is even more impressive when you consider that, with the exception of an expansion team, in the modern era of the NFL, a team has never gone into a season with five new starters at the five different offensive line positions.