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Vikings Roundup 11/28: Captain Ready for Former Mates

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Captain Munnerlyn will recognize the color scheme of the opposing uniforms but not as many former mates.

The cornerback, who signed with Minnesota during free agency after five seasons with Carolina, said he is still excited about the Vikings (4-7) hosting the Panthers (3-7-1) at noon (CT) Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.

"I'm going to go into the game like I always go into the game," Munnerlyn said. "I'm sure I'll be a little edgy or a little chippy, but at the same time, I'm just ready to play."

Carolina went through a complete overhaul of its receivers this season by drafting Kelvin Benjamin and Philly Brown, bringing in veteran Jerricho Cotchery and elevating De'Andre Presley and Brenton Bersin from its practice squad.

"I really don't know much about those guys right now," Munnerlyn said earlier this week. "I know the big boy (Benjamin) from Florida State. He's balling. He's got eight touchdowns already. He's a rookie and doing great things."

One thing that can be counted on is Munnerlyn's role in covering the slot when the Vikings use their nickel package. Munnerlyn moves from covering the outside of the field to the inside like he did for the Panthers.

Vikings secondary coach Jerry Gray said he has slid a corner to the slot twice during his NFL career. Both times were when Gray was with the Titans. He did so with Samari Rolle as a defensive backs coach and then 11 years later as defensive coordinator with Cortland Finnegan.

"A lot of guys think that's the natural thing to do but that takes a special talent for a football player to understand I've got this technique as a corner, but then have to flip it and go with this technique as a nickel, and that happens at one play or another," Gray said. "You have to be a really smart football player, and I think Cortland to Samari Rolle and Captain, those guys are football smart guys. They understand what to do, they don't get rattled when I've got to go from one position to another, and you as a coach know that's a blessing for you because you have a guy that can play two positions."

Munnerlyn's experience at shifting to the inside and skill at doing so helps the Vikings because they are able to play Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson at the outside spots.

"That slot position is really hard," Gray said. "You've got to play like a linebacker, but you've got to cover like a DB, and with him having done that, that takes a lot of pressure off other guys because now you don't have to teach a guy from zero to do that and now he plays two positions."

Munnerlyn said he's told others for years that a slot corner should be paid more handsomely than an outside corner because of the number of challenges and amount of coverage area.

Gray said Munnerlyn's value reaches beyond the field of play because of the six seasons of experience he brings to a relatively young secondary. Rhodes is in his second pro season, and Robinson and starting safeties Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton are in their third years in the league.

"The good thing is he's taken that role, he understands what we expect out of him coming over from Carolina and we know it's a tough deal that you've got to lead as a young guy," Gray said. "It adds more responsibility to you as a young football player, and I think that's good, because now he knows, 'I'm 26 years old and I'm the leader in that room and I've got another three or four or five years of playing,' then that's only going to make you a better football player."

Munnerlyn said he appreciated the Panthers drafting him in 2009 and the opportunity that has followed with Minnesota.

"I was there five years, and that's the organization that gave me a chance to take my game to the next level," Munnerlyn said. "They came in the seventh round and drafted little old Captain Munnerlyn and gave me a chance to go out there and play so I'm very thankful for that organization for that opportunity but I'm a Minnesota Viking now and they took my career to the next level. Now I'm ready to compete and play."

JENNINGS HONORED BY TEAMMATES: Veteran receiver Greg Jennings added another laurel on Friday when he was named by teammates as the club's 2014 Ed Block Courage Award winner. The Greg Jennings Foundation serves the Twin Cities and his hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich., by empowering others through educational enhancement opportunities.

The Ed Block Courage Award was established in 1984 in honor of the former athletic trainer with the Baltimore Colts and recognizes one player from each NFL team who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.

Jennings also received the Minneapolis Police Department's Community Service Award this week for his on-camera role in an educational video about counterterrorism.

IN THE RUNNING GAME: Vikings rookie and leading rusher Jerick McKinnon (lower back) did not practice for the third straight day Friday and is listed as doubtful for Sunday (click here for the full injury report for both teams).

Matt Asiata, who leads the Vikings with six rushing TDs, fully participated for the second straight day after missing last week's game with a concussion. The Vikings also have Joe Banyard, who recorded his first career carries last week against Green Bay, and Ben Tate III, who was claimed by Minnesota last week after he was waived by Cleveland.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked about Banyard's first action at running back in the regular season, and said "he caught the ball and extended drives and made plays."

"I thought he showed some juice getting to the perimeter a couple of plays and was explosive hitting holes," Zimmer said. "That's kind of how he was in the preseason; he just hasn't really had the opportunities. He will continue to get opportunities and hopefully he will continue to showcase his abilities."

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