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Cornerbacks Thriving Under Zimmer, Gray

The Vikings cornerbacks have emerged as a strength of the team since the arrival of Head Coach Mike Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray.

The unit helped the Vikings rank fifth in third-down percentage, fourth in red zone percentage and fifth in points allowed in 2015. The team ranked 30th, 26th and 32nd respectively in 2013, the season prior to Zimmer's hire.

Nobody on the Vikings defense saw the field more in 2015 than cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who played a whopping 94.6 percent of Minnesota's defensive snaps.

Rhodes, a former first-round pick who is entering his fourth year in the league, often shadowed opponent's best receivers and recorded one interception.

The cornerback group includes a strong mix of veterans and relative newcomers to the league.

Terence Newman was the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft and is entering his 14th season in the league. He is second among all active players with 40 career interceptions.

The wily veteran proved his worth last season as he led the Vikings with three interceptions. Newman will turn 38 years old before the regular season starts, making him the oldest defensive player in the league.

Captain Munnerlyn switched to nickel cornerback in 2015, where he was often tasked with covering shifty and quick receivers. The eighth-year pro had a pair of interceptions and a key fumble return for a touchdown in a Week 17 win at Green Bay.

Second-year cornerback Trae Waynes excelled on special teams last season but could carve out a role for himself this season. Waynes didn't have an interception in the regular season but snatched one in Minnesota's Wild Card playoff loss to Seattle.

Substantial Stats

The Vikings have stockpiled talent in their secondary over the past few years, especially at cornerback.

Minnesota has a trio of cornerbacks who were taken in the first round in Newman, Rhodes and Waynes.

Newman went fifth overall to Dallas in 2003 when Zimmer was the Cowboys defensive coordinator.

Rhodes was the No. 25 pick in 2013 by the Vikings two drafts before Minnesota selected Waynes at No. 11 overall in 2015.

Notable Quote

Besides experience on the roster, Minnesota's cornerbacks also can turn to Gray for insight.

Newman said Gray, a former All-American at Texas and a four-time Pro Bowler with the Rams, has been invaluable during discussions about  schemes and ideas.

"We get to have a lot of dialogue in our meetings. Coach Gray is instrumental in what happens in our secondary," Newman said. "He's a great teacher and a great communicator, so he's highly intelligent and a tremendous help for everybody in our secondary.

"We get that dialogue in our meetings. He quizzes us, tests us, and in front of everybody, so everybody has to be prepared and know what they're talking about," he added. "That's Coach Gray. We kind of have an understanding of what the other person thinks because we do that."

Coach's Corner

Gray said he saw a massive difference in Waynes, who is listed at 6-foot and 190 pounds, between offseason workouts during his rookie year and the recent spring.

"You see a more confident guy," Gray said. "He's not sitting around to wait for you to tell him what's going on.

"He understands and knows who to gravitate to now," he added.

The Depth Chart

Cornerback Marcus Sherels had multiple strong offseason practices but is better known for his special teams skills. Sherels averaged 9.1 yards per punt return and took one back to the house in 2015.

Minnesota selected cornerback Mackensie Alexander in the second round out of Clemson in the 2016 NFL Draft. Alexander didn't allow a touchdown pass against him in the final 23 games of his college career.

Jabari Price didn't appear in a game last season and was placed on injured reserve in October but is back for his third pro season.

The Vikings signed Melvin White in the offseason and later added Keith Baxter and Tre Roberson as undrafted free agents.

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