Winfield well respected
The Vikings aren't the only ones who have a deep appreciation for veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, as evidenced by the five-year contract extension worth a reported $36 million, with $16.1 million guaranteed that he received during the offseason.
This despite already being a 32-year-old cornerback, in a league in which playing that position into your 30s is fairly uncommon. But then again, Winfield is uncommon.
Former Redskins cornerback and Hall-of-Famer Darrell Green actually played the position at a high level until he was 42, so perhaps it wouldn't be a stretch for Winfield to legitimately fulfill all five years of his recent contract extension.
Like Green, Winfield is vastly undersized by current NFL standards for the position at just under 5-foot-9, and 180 pounds. Yet despite his diminutive stature, he has tremendous respect by opponents and seems to defy the odds.
"It doesn't amaze me because he just has heart," Browns receiver Braylon Edwards said going into the season opener. "He has the will to be a good player and he goes out there day in and day out and he works hard. It shows in his work ethic and it shows in his dedication to the game. He's very serious and he is indeed a good player. He's been doing it at a high level for a while now."
"He's a great player," said fellow former Buckeye and Browns receiver Brian Robiskie. "Watching him, the biggest thing that stands out is the energy he plays with. You look at corners, and not a lot of them want to come up and get involved with the running game, but he's one of the few that gets very involved. He goes hard every play."
"I played against him a bunch when I was at New England, and he's a really good corner," said Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. "Everybody says you've got to have great size, six-foot, prototypical, but that guy's as physical as there is with the size he has."
"I've known (cornerback) Antoine Winfield for a long time," Browns coach Eric Mangini said. "He's an impressive guy. I dealt with him in Buffalo. He was what some people would consider to be an undersized corner, but he plays big. He plays aggressively. He's tough in the passing game and running game."
"I am amazed at how a physical corner [like Winfield] can set the tempo for a defense," according to ex-Ravens head coach Brian Billick.
Answers to key questions after Week One
1. John Sullivan vs. Shaun Rogers: The first-year starter drew his first regular season start against one of the best in the business. For much of the game, Sullivan did okay, but in the end Rogers gave him a tough time and finished with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles-for-loss and 1 quarterback hurry. It should be noted, however, that Matt Birk often had similar trouble with Rogers when he faced him with Detroit.
3. Pass protection: Brett Favre was sacked 4 times, but other than the one play by Rogers, in which he simply bull-rushed Sullivan, the problem was often blitz pressure off the edge and a couple coverage-type sacks that Favre seemed to willingly concede in the name of protecting the ball. Outside linebacker Kameron Wimbley had one sack and 3 quarterback pressures, and the other two sacks came on corner blitzes by defensive backs (Abram Elam and Brodney Pool). Correcting those issues is a concern, but for the most part Favre was not hit anywhere near as hard as he was in his preseason debut against the Chiefs.
4. Special teams improvement: Uh oh, another punt return for a touchdown allowed on a combination poor punt and coverage, otherwise okay against one of the top return guys in the league in Joshua Cribbs. Still, a major concern. The return game, however, looks much improved with Percy Harvin on kickoffs (33-yard average on 3 returns) and Darius Reynaud, who averaged 27.0 on two returns. Both guys impressed with how they take the ball directly upfield with a minimal amount of East-West running. Reynaud appears to have a knack for making that first man miss.
5. Percy Harvin: A modest start with 3 catches for 36 yards and Favre's first touchdown pass as a Viking. He also rushed the ball twice for 11 yards. On the downside, he dropped a quick-screen pass. Harvin appeared to just scratch the surface but showed enough flashes to expect even bigger things.
6. The Wildcat: Much ado about little at this point. Harvin took a couple snaps but it was not a significant part of the team's offense at this point.
7: Favre: Solid but not spectacular. The chemistry still is not there with some of his receivers, but he efficiently compiled a 95.3 passer rating, despite at least 3 dropped passes, and very much played within the context of the game situations. He did not turn the ball over. If Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels had started and posted the same passer rating, everyone would be very positive about them, but with Favre, it's "nothing special."
Lewis continues career as "other guy"
The newest Viking, wide receiver Greg Lewis, was originally a walk-on out of high school at Illinois. He has always been "the other" guy on the team, yet has often outperformed other more highly touted players wherever he's been.
Coming out of college, Lewis was generally considered the fourth-best wide receiver coming out of Illinois back in 2003. College teammates Brandon Lloyd, Walter Young and Aaron Moorehead were all rated higher by virtually every draft book at the time.
Lloyd was a fourth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers. In his seventh season now, Lloyd has caught 156 passes for 2,253 yards and 15 touchdowns (14.4 avg.) with the 49ers (2003-05), Redskins (2006-07), Bears (2008) and now Denver.
Young was a seventh-round pick by the Carolina Panthers. He spent five years in the league, one with the Panthers (2003) and four with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2004-07). He caught one pass for 17 yards.
Moorehead, the son of former Chicago Bears tight end Emery Moorehead, had a nice career with the Indianapolis Colts (2003-07) as an undrafted free agent. His pro career included 31 catches for 330 yards (10.6 avg.) and one touchdown.
Lewis entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles and hauled in 127 passes for 1,699 yards (13.4 avg.) and 7 touchdowns in six pro seasons with the Eagles.
Interestingly, there's been a lot of concern about the Vikings having two new starters on their offensive line this season in Sullivan and Loadholt. But both the Packers and Bears each have at least two new starters on their offensive line this season. The Packers have Allen Barbre, who has played in 15 games (no starts) the past two seasons starting at right tackle and Josh Sitton, who played in 11 games (2 starts) at right guard. For the Bears, former No. 1 pick Chris Williams, who played in 9 games (no starts) last year now starts at right tackle, and Frank Omiyale, who's played in 11 games (1 start) the past four years is their new left guard.
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie delivered a key block at the point of attack to spring Adrian Peterson for his 64-yard touchdown run to seal the deal against the Browns. McKinnie turned ex-Viking C.J. Mosley at the line of scrimmage and rode him about five yards outside to create a gaping hole for Peterson to hit.
McKinnie tweet en route back to Winter Park after the Cleveland game: "OMG! Brett is killing us back here! He just passed gas."
Brian Robison is coming in at defensive tackle on passing downs.
Bobby Wade has reportedly signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. The bottom line with Wade being released by the Vikings was that he was a one-trick pony who had to operate in the slot and has always struggled to get separation from top-flight cornerbacks. The Chiefs need help at that slot receiver position, so he'll contribute. But with the addition of Harvin and the emergence of Darius Reynaud, the Vikings could simply afford to move on without him.
Despite the hype and high expectations in Minnesota, virtually none of the national media experts are picking them to go to the Super Bowl this year. In fact many still project Green Bay to win the division ahead of the Vikings. That can only help motivate the schism-free locker room at Winter Park.
Kevin Brown has been providing personnel analysis and writing about the Vikings for more than 20 years with Viking Update. Follow VU on Twitter and discuss this and other topics on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Vikings Update web site or magazine, click here.