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Terence Newman: Defying the Long Odds

Trae Waynes hadn't covered DeAndre Hopkins all game, but when the need arose, he was ready.

Minnesota already had a substantial lead on Houston, and Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler looked for the top receiver in an effort to move the chains and close the gap.

But Newman had done his homework. He noticed that Osweiler would respond to the cornerback playing "off" coverage, making eye contact with Hopkins and then throwing a hitch route.

"I see this and then start my [backpedal], but then I thought [about knowing] it was going to be a hitch, and I jumped it and broke it up," Newman said before adding, now almost a year later, "I would have loved to pick that ball. It would have been a touchdown."

Newman would know. The two-time Pro Bowler has recorded 41 interceptions and returned three to the end zone. 

Fast forward to Week 1 of the 2017 season, and Newman is asked to play both outside corner and the nickel, moving between the two positions with ease.

Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray doesn't hesitate to put Newman in either role.

"We know he can do it," Gray said. "[In 2015], he started at free safety [at Arizona]. To me, any time a guy can adapt, that gives the coaches more adaptability. And you won't be out of one package, if a guy gets hurt, you can go move another guy around – 'Coach, I understand what's going on.'

"That means he has three positions that he has to learn, and game plan, and know what they're doing," Gray said. "So when you have a guy that's that valuable, I think that's a big plus for us on defense."

Some might credit Newman's strategies solely to his sage experience. At 39 years old, he is the second-oldest active defender in the league, behind Pittsburgh's James Harrison. But Newman learned at a young age – and a small stature – how to play smart football and defy the odds.

His earliest memory of the pigskin is playing in a flag football league. Then in fifth or sixth grade, transitioning to tackle and suiting up at running back.

"My helmet didn't fit. My pants didn't fit; my thigh pads were at my knees, and my knee pads were at my shins. But I just had fun," Newman recalled with a chuckle. "I was always undersized, but I was fast.

"I played running back and DB, and I do remember tackling some of the biggest dudes out there," he added. "It wasn't all about hitting a guy hard. It was more so for me about tackling him, getting him down. Some guys would try to hit the guy and bounce off, and for me, I was undersized, so I had to play [smarter]."

Newman's love for the game of football and ability to play intelligently has resulted in a longtime successful career at the highest level.

Drafted fifth overall in 2003, Newman spent his first nine seasons in Dallas, where he was first acquainted with Mike Zimmer, his defensive coordinator from 2003-06. In 2012, the duo reunited in Cincinnati for two seasons and again in Minnesota in 2015, this time with Zimmer heading into his second season as Vikings head coach.

Newman recalled the conversation with Zimmer about joining him on his third NFL team.

"He calls me after my contract expires and says, 'Hey. Would you like to play?' And I'm like, 'Hell yeah. Let's do this.' "

Gray, a former corner who was picked in the first round of the 1985 NFL Draft and made four Pro Bowls, recalled reviewing extensive film of Newman and concluded that "he was playing at as high of a level as anybody out there."

For someone who didn't picture himself in football pads long-term – as a child he dreamed of playing in the MLB, then resorted to basketball and finally to football in late high school – Newman's path has been a successful one.

Since joining the Vikings in 2015, Newman has played 33 games (starting 26 of them) and recorded 133 tackles, 22 passes defensed and four interceptions.

The 2017 season marks just the second time, however, that Newman was named a team captain – the first being in Dallas. It's a role that he doesn't take lightly.

"It means a lot," Newman said of this year having the "C" patch embroidered to his purple jersey.

Ask his teammates, and they'll tell you that Newman isn't the most vocal guy in the locker room, but he's not afraid to be assertive when a situation calls for it. He specifically recalled Minnesota's game at Jacksonville in 2016, when several mistakes were made early.

"We get to the sideline, Coach Zim' was about to talk to the defense, and I was in a mode where I was upset," Newman said. "He pulls us over there, and before he can even start talking, I started snappin'. I didn't call anyone out, but I said, 'Yo, we have to stick together and stop BS-ing. Let's go out here and play like we can play, and let's put this game away.'

"I noticed that when I did that, guys were looking at me and kind of getting fired up, shaking their head like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let's do this.' And we go out and we win the game," Newman continued. "But after the game, guys are like, 'Man, you don't snap that often, but when you do — we needed that at that time.' "

Newman believes that a good locker room leader is able to build rapport and trust with his teammates but doesn't back down from tough conversations when they're needed.

"They've gotta understand that you're coming from a good place when you speak to them," Newman said. "So I choose my words carefully, and there's nobody I ever try to point out. I talk about 'us.' There's never any single person you can talk to on a football team."

As Newman settles into his 15th NFL season, he's been open in expressing that his heart remains on the gridiron because he isn't prepared to stop chasing the ultimate goal – a Super Bowl championship. It's early in the season, and he refused to look beyond Sunday's game against the Buccaneers toward three straight division opponents.

View the best images of new Vikings CB Terence Newman from his days as an Cowboy and Bengal.

But Newman is excited to help lead a team that he feels is special.

"[Look] at the talent level," he said emphatically. "I think every team has talent, right? But not every team has the depth [of] talent level [as the Vikings]."

He highlighted the work ethic and tenacity of Minnesota's roster.

"Everson [Griffen is] one of my favorite players. I got here and was like, 'Man, this dude is special. This dude's one of the best D-ends in football,' " Newman said. "He goes out every day, he busts his butt, grinds, he watches tape. … B-Rob (Brian Robison), the same way. Linval [Joseph], Shamar [Stephen]. I mean, you can go straight down the line. We've got some of the best linebackers in the game. We've got some of the best secondary players in the game. And then we go to the offense, and you can say the same thing, all the way down."

Three weeks into the 2017 season, Newman said that each team "has the same opportunity right now" and that a lot can depend on players staying healthy. Even reflecting on last season and the disappointing 8-8 finish, he pointed out that Minnesota's 5-0 start demonstrated what the team is capable of.

The Vikings 29-19 win over the Saints two weeks ago? Another example of what could be.

"I've never been a fan of having people tell you how good you are. I think the record indicates how good you are as a team," Newman said. "So this year, being kind of an underdog, I like that. It's something where you've got to fight every day, every week … and to me, that's a good place to be."

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