Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has an extended member of his coaching staff, and he takes the field every week.

Terence Newman wears one helmet but many hats for the Vikings, and the most important may be his thinking cap.

Over 15 seasons in the NFL, he’s played cornerback, nickelback and even a little safety here and there, but his list of titles doesn’t stop at player positions. From student of the game to evolving into mentorship – and even a “coaching” role – Newman seems to do it all.

Newman, who turned 39 in September, studies even more now than when he first entered the league.

When it comes to breaking down an opponent’s tape, Newman sees a puzzle just waiting to be solved.

“You have a bunch of equations, and you have to just put together the pieces to get the right answer,” Newman said. “You watch film and then you go practice, and you see how many things you can recall from your film study.

“You can get by on straight athletic ability for so long, and then that catches up to you,” Newman added. “So you have to have another gear where, OK, you have athletic ability, but now you’re also being a cerebral player – recognizing formations and splits and knowing what teams like to do out of those.”

Newman said he tries to hone in on every little detail – from receivers, to tight ends, to the leader of the huddle.

“I like to see how a quarterback does his three-step [drop], his five-step, and then be able to culminate routes off of those,” Newman explained.

His work has paid off. Newman has earned a reputation around the league for not only his on-field abilities but the level of preparation that can be expected from the vet.

Vikings at Falcons - Sunday, December 3, 2017

Leading up to the Vikings-Falcons matchup on Dec. 3, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan spoke about Newman, an opponent he’s faced six times since entering the league in 2008. Ryan identified Newman as a multilevel threat to an offense.

“He’s a guy that’s been in this scheme in different places for a long time and understands it really well. I think that experience is critical for [the Vikings],” Ryan said. “He’s willing in the run game. I mean, he’ll go in and make some tackles. He’s still very good in the pass game.”

Added the 2016 NFL MVP: “He probably recognizes patterns and route combinations about as good as anybody, just from all the experience that he has.”

Ryan’s impression of Newman was demonstrated first-hand when the defensive back blanketed running back Tevin Coleman on a deep throw by Ryan toward the end zone in a game the Vikings went on to win.

But it hasn’t always come so smoothly. Rather, it’s been a process.

Zimmer recalled his time as a defensive coordinator in Dallas, during which the Cowboys drafted Newman fifth overall in 2003.

“He used to play the slot when he was a lot younger in Dallas,” Zimmer said of Newman returning to the nickel position in 2017. “He wasn’t great at it back then, but I think it’s helped him to understand his responsibilities, and even when he’s had to go back at safety a little bit, that helps him understand the overall aspect of everything.”

Newman describes Zimmer as a “tough-love coach” who wasn’t afraid to tell the young player that his technique was horse-you-know-what. But Newman took the criticism because he wanted to live up to his full potential on the football field – and he knew Zimmer cared.

Newman’s relationship with Zimmer has influenced the road map of his NFL career. Four years after Zimmer transitioned from Dallas to Cincinnati, Newman reconnected with him.

“I knew that if I went to Cincy, I was going to play some good football. I go to Cincy, and we play well, and the next year play well, and the next year play well. And then Zim’ calls me after my contract expires there and says, ‘Hey. Would you like to play [in Minnesota]?’ And I’m like, ‘Hell yeah, let’s do this.’ ”

Zimmer has helped develop the two-time Pro Bowler into the player he is today, and Newman now is investing a similar amount of energy into his younger teammates.

Newman spent nine seasons (2003-2011) with the Dallas Cowboys and three seasons (2012-2014) with the Cincinnati Bengals

Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur spent three seasons (2012-14) with Newman in Cincinnati and reunited with him last season when the Vikings signed Lamur as a free agent. The two also share an alma mater in Kansas State University.

“When you look around and ask, ‘What does a professional look like?’ I would definitely say Terence Newman,” Lamur said. “Not only that he’s a pro on the field but off the field, as well. He’s a great teacher. That’s what people don’t see.

“Whatever is needed in the secondary, he’s the man that knows the outside corner from nickel, to safety and nickel linebacker,” Lamur continued. “He does a great job of retaining information and applying it to the guys and expanding what he sees because he does a great job of coming in on his day off and doing a lot of film study. He’s had me come in a few times and do film study with him.”

Zimmer said it’s not uncommon for younger players to study with Newman or, at the very least, keep a close eye on the habits that make him successful.

The head coach said he occasionally hands out “homework assignments” to Newman, asking him to study a tactic of an opposing team, and believes that other players are taking notes.

One player watching Newman closely is Mackensie Alexander, whom the Vikings selected 54th overall in 2016. He called Newman’s approach to film study “unique” and often seizes an opportunity to go over tape with him.

“I wanted to see how he watches film, and I wanted to watch it the same way. I just kind of compare mine to his and how he does it differently. He focuses on the things that matter, and the things that don’t matter, he doesn’t watch,” Alexander said. “With me, I’ll watch a little bit of everything, but he watches the things that matter [the most] … That’s a testimony to being there for a while.”

It isn’t only his fellow cornerbacks soaking in sage wisdom, however.

“I think he’s a really big influence on the receivers and DBs because they all ask him about routes and really the entire defense,” Zimmer said. “Because they respect what he’s done in this league and how he goes about his business.”

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who was 9 years old when Newman entered the NFL, admired the defensive back’s game from afar before even making it to the pros.

When the Vikings drafted Diggs in 2015, he was excited because he knew he’d likely have the chance to go against Newman in practice and subsequently become a better player. Diggs said he has “the utmost respect” for Newman, whom he’s gotten plenty of reps with over the past three training camps and offseason practices.

“It prepares you for the season. He sees the routes that you’re running, and he’ll tell you, ‘The DB is going to react this way’ or ‘This is how it’s going to happen,’ – he does it all the time,” Diggs said. “As far as having insight, he’s seen the game for so long that he knows what’s going to pop and what’s not.

“When I was a rookie, I learned so much because I was going against him so often,” Diggs added. “You’re not going to beat him twice with the same thing, and he’s seen the majority of what [you will do]. He’s seen some great receivers in his time … I always take heed to what he says.”

Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray takes notice of the way that Newman takes players under his wing – at times, even to a fault.

How do you coach a player who’s been in the league for 15 seasons? You make sure he’s not helping too much.

“I always talk to Terence about getting back to being himself first,” Gray said. “I know what good football players do; they tend to stray off a little bit early because they want to help too many other people. They want to help the young guys.

“And I tell him, ‘Hey, look. I was in your position, I was fortunate enough to be there, and I was trying to help everybody else,’ ” Gray continued. “ ‘But here’s what I want you to do. I want you to be Terence first, and get to that level of play, and then if you have some left, then you help the guys. Because that’s what we’re counting on – you being you.’ ”

Ask Newman about his commitment to come alongside his teammates and act as another coach, and he will just smile. He calls Gray one of his “greatest assets” and one of the smartest coaches he’s been privileged to work with.

“Coach Gray has to coach so many people,” Newman said. “I’ve been with Zim’ for so long that I know what he wants out of us, so Coach might have to spend more time on one guy, and then another guy and another guy, so while he’s doing that, I can actually do my work and help somebody else out.”

Neman congratulates Mackenzie Alexander after an interception against Washington

One player who has especially connected with Newman is Alexander, who said the older teammate has been there for him since day one.

“Terence is a guy that’s always been behind me, always been pushing me, always been talking to me throughout everything that’s going on,” said Alexander, who said he’s made it a point to observe the way Newman carries himself at practice, in meetings and outside of the practice facility.

Even after now being teammates with Newman for nearly two years, Alexander continues to be impressed.

“Sometimes you look at him and it’s like, ‘Man.’ He makes some plays that it’s like, ‘[Dang], he knew that was coming.’ Or, ‘How did he know that was coming?’ Things like that,” Alexander said. “That’s Terence, man. Terence is Terence.”

Alexander’s opportunities and production have increased this season, and he believes he has Newman to thank for much of that progression.

Newman has shown Alexander how to slow down his game.

“Kind of just let the game flow with you, flow with the game,” Alexander explained. “Let the plays come, then make them happen. He’s just helped me slow it down as far as knowing what’s coming, seeing what’s happening. I’m able to do that now and just kind of be relaxed and play football. That’s a big credit to him.”

It has spoken volumes that Newman has never avoided helping Alexander to protect his own position.

“We always say, ‘We need each other.’ I always tell him that, and he always tells me that. He’s always expressed that to me. And that’s been good for me – having a guy who’s played so long and wants you to do well,” Alexander said. “I think it’s great. We complement each other a whole lot on the field, off the field, what we see.

“I just have a lot of love for him because of how he treats me as a man and as a person, not a football player,” Alexander added. “He’s just been so good to me, it’s been incredible.”

Alexander highlighted Newman’s attention to detail and said he’s “just like another coach” helping everyone to be on the same page.

Zimmer doesn’t disagree.

He explained that there can be a significant jump from coaching to playing because a player may be able to explain the ins and outs of his own position but not be well-versed on other positions or the intricacies of different schemes.

“He is different,” Zimmer said of Newman. “He sees the big picture and wants to know about what defensive linemen do, what linebackers do. Not just that. He wants to know about receivers and how they run routes and splits and foundation. I think he has a good grasp of the overall game, as opposed to, ‘OK, I’m a corner.’ ”

But for now? Newman has business to take care of on the field before considering a move to the sidelines.

“I think he’d make a great coach,” Zimmer said. “I’ve talked to him about it – but he likes playing.”

Created By
Lindsey Young

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