GM, Winfield agree nickel could be his key

Antoine Winfield (Bruce Kluckhorn/USP)

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said Thursday that Antoine Winfield's future could be at nickel, not safety.

The annual NFL Scouting Combine opened Wednesday in Indianapolis and one of the topics Vikings general manager Rick Spielman addressed was the disposition of Antoine Winfield. The 13-year veteran has missed six or more games in two of the last three years and three of the last five seasons and he turns 35 in June.

There has been discussion of him moving to safety because of his physical limitations on the outside, but, as the Vikings were packing up and heading their separate ways in January, Viking Update asked Winfield about a potential switch to safety and he left little doubt about his feelings on that topic.

"Safety is not my position," Winfield said. "I like to be in the action, so I will be a corner."

He was quick to point out that the positions are night and day in terms of skill sets and responsibilities. He's never played safety and doesn't believe his 14th NFL season is the time to start.

"It's totally different," Winfield said. "I come at a different angle. From the outside, usually you see Adrian Peterson or a big guy running right at you; it's a lot different. You've got to have leverage. I've been playing corner forever. That's my spot."

Thursday in Indianapolis, Spielman also seemed to discount the possibility of shifting Winfield to safety. While the thought hasn't been completely dismissed, it seems like a long shot at best. Instead, Spielman could envision Winfield being taken off of the one-on-one deep responsibilities of an "outside-the-hashes" corner and be a dominant nickel corner lined up over a slot receiver.

"We've talked about that a little bit," Spielman said. "But we still feel that he has the quickness and effective style to be an effective ‘nick' (nickel cornerback) as well. Antoine has been a very smart player and been a great player for us since he's come in. But also you have the age concerns a little bit and the durability concerns – which is normal for a player his age."

While Winfield has no intention of shifting to safety, he relishes the opportunity to play the nickel corner, where his toughness and physicality can come into play.

"I've always played in the nickel, since I was at Ohio State," Winfield said. "That's always been my favorite position. I love being in there where all the action is – I can blitz and do some other things. I see myself there."

If the Vikings are going to address safety in free agency, they may well have to do it by the same method in which they got Mistral Raymond to make the switch. He moved from safety to corner as a senior at South Florida. But, like many big, physical college corners, the speed of the NFL game precipitates change and Spielman said that, as the Vikings evaluate the safety class of 2012, it also includes many of the bigger, more physical college cornerbacks as candidates to help fill the void the Vikings have at safety.

"It's funny, there are a couple very good safeties (in the 2012 class), but there's always more corners than there are safeties coming out," Spielman said. "It's those big corners (that move to safety). We did that last year with Mistral Raymond. … With the passing game that's in the NFL right now, especially in our division, you almost have to have safeties that have coverage skills that can make plays in the passing game."

If anything, it would appear as though Winfield is likely to be pigeon-holed in 2012 as a primary nickel back and only a part-time player outside the hash marks. But Spielman's job is to provide head coach Leslie Frazier and his staff with players. It's up to Frazier and the assistant coaches to determine where players – Winfield or others – fit in best.

"He was playing good outside last year, but I just think as a guy gets older, his roles change," Spielman said. "Antoine is still an excellent football player. What that role is has yet to be determined. That's what the coaches do."


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  • The Packers announced one of the first key signings of the offseason – re-signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a long-term deal. Finley and his agent made headlines earlier in the week when discussion came to Finley potentially being franchised. They pointed out that as often as Finley lined up on the outside in a wide receiver position, if he was franchised, he should be entitled to get the franchise tag mark for a wide receiver, which is almost double that of tight ends. The point became moot Thursday.

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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