EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Terence Newman's distinguished career has hinged on opportunities.
Newman worked hard to make the most of his in college, and the NFL door opened. He's shown up every day of an impressive, 13-year career trying to deny opportunities for others.
Success at doing both, combined with a deep mutual respect that he and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer share for one another, has led to a new opportunity in Minnesota. This is Newman's seventh professional season playing for Zimmer after four in Dallas (2003-06) and two more in Cincinnati (2012-13).
The bond between Newman and Zimmer began when the Cowboys selected Newman fifth overall out of Kansas State.
The Salina, Kansas, native didn't enter the league with false bravado. He came in ready to listen and learn from the expertise of a coaching veteran who rose through the ranks through tutoring defensive backs.
"Probably the biggest thing is he wants to be good," Zimmer said when asked about the strength of his relationship with Newman. "When you talk to him about technique and working at this or that, he's going to work."
Newman said Zimmer coached "us to be the best players we could be, and I think he treated everybody the same."
"If you screwed up, you got reprimanded and coached, and with that, you always wanted to be the best player you can be so he always strived to get the most out of us," Newman said. "He always has an innate ability to bring out more than you've exhibited. It's fun just to see guys be here and watch them grow and become better players."
Focus on DBs in Dallas
Zimmer was defensive coordinator for the Cowboys (2000-06) when Dallas drafted Newman. He had been defensive backs coach for the Cowboys from 1994-99, and earned the promotion between Newman's freshman and sophomore years with the Wildcats.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Cowboys.
Zimmer's continued emphasis on the position group after his promotion all those years ago is similar to the scrutiny from Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray that helped Xavier Rhodes blossom last season and the attention that 11th overall pick Trae Waynes has received this year. Newman, however, said Zimmer has an expertise that players across the defense value.
The respect factor, Newman said, was instantly established and reinforced by results, and he's seen similar relationships between Vikings teammates and Zimmer.
"You get a coach that is a great coach, first and foremost, and teaches you the game in ways you've never dreamed of knowing the game," Newman said. "You've got to respect that. It's amazing, the things that he knows. I've been on the sideline and heard him calling out plays and the offense just runs them. It's amazing. His knowledge of the game is impressive. He's a guy, I'd put him in the Hall of Fame and this is his second year of being a head coach. The things he's done, if you look at what his defenses have done, he would be worthy, when he retires, to be in the Hall of Fame."
Newman's keen awareness helps him use the intricacies of the game to his advantage, which was evidenced in an anecdote that Zimmer relayed to reporters this week. Zimmer mentioned a play from last week when Newman was covering Mike Wallace and adjusted based on what he quickly observed.
"He was on Wallace and he got into a position, and I didn't like it, and I said, 'Why are we doing that?,' He said, 'Well, he raised up a little bit as he was running down the field.' I have to replay the tape to see that, and he can see that during the play while it was happening. I said, 'Did you tell Wallace yet?' He said, 'Not yet.' I said, 'Make sure you tell him.' "
Waynes, meanwhile, has expressed admiration for the way Newman has appeared to know where receivers are going on routes before the play.
"Just watching T-Newman, he's running the routes before receivers do, and it's ridiculous, so I just hope one day I can be on that level," Waynes said.
Wallace, a seven-year NFL veteran who also joined the Vikings this offseason, said during training camp that it feels like Newman has "seen every single route" and is a great competitor on every rep in practices.
"I think I've put in some work. I've had ups and downs like everybody has and you just still keep fighting," Newman said. "You've got guys that you play with and watch them go through the day-in and day-out of the grind and get to do it with them, so you build a level of respect with the guys you work with, so everybody respects everybody.
"We try to help each other out and get better," Newman added. "I've seen a lot, so some of the receivers talk to me and ask me different things. It's kind of flattering that they want to get my knowledge as well, but I've got to help them just as they've helped me. I say, 'If you notice me doing something, please let me know,' because they see me first hand."
Humble beginnings, but raised right
Salina, Kansas is part of the breadbasket of "The Heartland," with wheat fields, cattle and the river catfish and drum that Newman and a couple buddies didn't catch on weekend trips that began just before sunset and often lasted until 2 a.m.
The values Newman learned in his hometown have remained central to his core.
"My mom worked two jobs. She raised me and my sister. I've got an uncle who was mentally challenged, and she had to care for him as well, and that was a strain," Newman said. "College was something where I had to get a scholarship to go to college. I just wasn't going to be able to do it financially.
"I had a super focus to get a scholarship," Newman added. "Once I did that, I wanted to maximize that opportunity. I can get an education and don't have to pay for it. I can go out there and pay with blood, sweat and tears and be able to get an education. That was my first thought. NFL great, but my biggest thing was getting an education, which is why I stayed all four years."
Newman became the first Kansas State player to garner the Jim Thorpe Award that is presented annually to the nation's top DB, was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior and set the school record in the 100-meter dash (10.20 seconds), an event in which he claimed two Big 12 titles.
Newman ranks fourth in career interceptions (37) among active NFL players.
As accolades have mounted, Newman still remembers the sacrifices his mom made to make sure he had football shoes to play the game he loves.
"Terence has always been a great kid," Zimmer said. "He grew up the right way. He's a good person."
Now a target of "old man jokes," Newman will turn 37 just 10 days before the Vikings open the regular season against the 49ers in what could be the 173rd start and 175th pro game of his career.
Newman has taken the bulk of first-team reps opposite Xavier Rhodes and jokes that he's aging like the red wine he and Zimmer have developed a taste for.
"Obviously you've got to take care of your body," Newman said. "Once your body starts going, it makes it a little harder to wake up in the morning and go be productive and go to practice, but also competing, just the fact I get to wake up in the morning and compete with guys that are 10, 11, 12 years younger than me and see what I have against them. That's one of the greatest things that I get to do at my age. I get to compete with young guys, and to me, that's a blessing to be able to do that."