Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield played in only five games last season, spending most of the time away the field mending a broken collarbone. There were other issues in the secondary, but it was far worse than it would have been if he'd played. When Winfield is healthy, he has been one of the league's top cornerbacks for more than a decade.
I talked to Winfield about his health and what he expects as a 14-year NFL veteran.
BS: You're not asking for a trade, too, are you?
: (Laughs.) Not at all. I think I'll be here.
BS: Are you 100 percent healthy or close to it?
: I'm 100 percent. I think I was cleared the end of March. The last couple of months I'm running around, getting into shape and getting ready for training camp.
BS: Are you knocking the rust off?
: That's why I'm out here at OTAs and minicamp -- to knock the rust off. I only played five games last year so it's always good to work on your technique.
BS: How about your body? Are you fresher after missing all those games?
: I think I am. Usually, I'm ending up with, like, 90 tackles. Last year, I only had about 30. I'm feeling pretty good. (He had 40 combined tackles in 2011, 91 in 2010 when he played a full 16-game schedule.)
BS: Do you expect your role to change?.
: We'll see. My goal is to play 16 games. I'm not sure if I'll be outside
all 16. I'm sure I'll play (inside) in the nickel
BS: A few years ago, you told me you would be open to moving to safety when you got older. It sounded like a good idea then. How about now?
: It did sound good. I've played cornerback for so many years, and moving to safety is a totally different technique. I'm usually coming from the side where I have angles to make tackles. Being a safety, I'm looking at that running back eye-to-eye. (Facing) a 225-pound, 235-pound running back, there'd be wear and tear. I don't think the body is ready for that
BS: You're a smart player so with your brains you'd do great back there, but are you saying your body wouldn't like it?
AW: Probably at free safety, not at strong safety.
BS: Just tell the coaches you'll play free safety.
AW: I probably could play free safety, but I'm sure I'll be at the corner or the nickel.
BS: You haven't lost much speed. At free safety, you'd be plenty fast enough, wouldn't you?
AW: I could run a little bit ... not as fast as I was at 20 or 25. But I can move a little bit.
BS: If you were the nickel back, you'd be there on just about every passing down, right?
AW: If I just played strictly nickel ...
BS: Have they talked to you about playing strictly nickel?
AW: No, no. I'd be in and outside
. I want to play the whole season. I probably won't play every snap outside
. That's where you have to be running with (Detroit Lions wide receiver) Calvin Johnson and all the big receivers out there. I'm not really sure. We'll come up with a plan.
BS: Well, they'd want to have you out there on first down and running plays with the way you tackle.
AW: Right, right.
BS: So you'll be outside on running plays and inside in the nickel?
AW: I wish we knew if they were running or passing. (Laughs.) Sometimes, you have an idea, but I'll be in and out. Wherever the coaches need me, I'll be there.
BS: Do you get a lot of the younger defensive backs asking you for advice? You've sort of become the grizzled veteran.
AW: (Laughs). I am now. I think I'm the oldest player on the team now. Of course, young guys come and ask me after a play, "Which technique did I look good (on)." During film study, they sit by me and ask players, and I answer them.
BS: Does Christian Ponder look like a different quarterback than he did as a rookie?
AW: He looks good. He looks comfortable in the pocket and is making some really good throws. I'm looking for a big season out of him.
BS: As a defensive back, do you sometimes give advice to the quarterback about things he should be looking for?
AW: Not yet. It's still too early. During training camp, we'll tell him, "You're probably looking a little too long over here, letting me jump the routes."