Minnesota Vikings' Antoine Winfield: 'His best football' not behind him, coach says
By Jeremy Fowler
Posted: 06/07/2012 12:01:00 AM CDT
June 7, 2012 8:47 PM GMTUpdated: 06/07/2012 03:47:17 PM CDT
Despite the Vikings' efforts to get younger at several positions, they're asking a 34-year-old cornerback to cover slot receivers.
Antoine Winfield is the only current Viking who was in the NFL in the 1990s. He's also the team's only cornerback with more than 27 NFL starts -- which might amplify his importance to Minnesota as a veteran with a Pro Bowl pedigree.
"Everybody's looking for bigger, younger cornerbacks," said Winfield, entering his 14th season. "But I still love to compete, I love to play football, I love being around the guys, and wherever I'm needed, I'm going to give it my all."
Coach Leslie Frazier can assure Winfield is needed. In fact, the Vikings coach has told Winfield how much he appreciates his
Frazier wants Winfield to help mold this year's group of cornerbacks, which includes a talented starter marred by legal problems (Chris Cook), a third-round pick in April's draft (Josh Robinson) and two free-agent signees coming off down 2011 seasons (Baltimore's Chris Carr, Chicago's Zack Bowman). Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton also are competing for spots.
Frazier calls the team's cornerback depth "10 times better" than a year ago, when the Vikings were too reliant on oft-injured Cedric Griffin and played Winfield outside out of necessity.
"We need his leadership, we need his playmaking ability," Frazier said. "We don't think his best football is behind him."
Winfield agrees, hoping to resurge from a 2011 season reduced to five games because of neck and clavicle injuries.
Winfield says he isn't sure whether he'll be used more as an inside corner -- where he's most effective as a sure tackler and quick reactor -- or on the outside.
Ideally, Frazier says, a third starter will emerge as an outside corner with Cook, allowing Winfield to play mostly inside.
Meanwhile, Winfield is attacking the game the same way he always has -- aggressively, fearlessly -- but he's also trying to be more vocal in the locker room as he gets older.
"It's all about encouraging competition," Winfield said. "A lot of young guys out here are hungry."
Winfield's injury problems from a year ago could help preserve his durability. His clavicle and neck are fully healed, and his body didn't take the pounding from a normal season.
Winfield says he's not worried about his legacy, which will be defined more by toughness and tackling than interceptions (24 in 13 seasons).
With two years left on a contract set to pay about $3 million a year, Winfield hopes to end his career on his terms. That means he must produce.
There are prime examples of older NFL cornerbacks such as Denver's Champ Bailey (age 33) and Green Bay's Charles Woodson (35) still playing at a high level. Maybe this will encourage Vikings fans hoping for stellar play from Winfield, who turns 35 on June 24.
If Winfield spends a lot of time in the slot this season, he likes his chances.
"That's my bread and butter," he said. "I can still make a lot of plays there."