When Captain Munnerlyn lines up against Kelvin Benjamin Sunday, he’ll give up 8 inches and 50 pounds.
Can’t wait, Munnerlyn said Wednesday.
“You guys know me; I have a little-man syndrome,” Munnerlyn, a former Panthers cornerback, said. “I’ve got to show people I can cover him.”
Munnerlyn spent his first five NFL seasons with in Charlotte after Carolina selected him in the seventh round (216th overall) in the 2009 draft. He compensated for 5-foot-9 height with a hyper-competitive approach. That made him quite popular with Carolina fans before he signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2014.
What reaction does he anticipate from the Bank of America Stadium crowd? Munnerlyn recalled the boos ex-Panther Julius Peppers drew when he returned as a Chicago Bear.
“Every time he made a play, they booed him,” Munnerlyn said during a conference call with Charlotte media. “I don’t think they’ll do that to me.”
You guys know me; I have a little-man syndrome. I’ve got to show people I can cover him.
Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, on covering 6-5 Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin
Like fellow defensive back Mike Mitchell (who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers), Munnerlyn found another team and a better contract offer. He signed a three-year deal in 2014 worth about $11 million.
He didn’t play particularly well that first season away from Carolina, but bounced back last season.
“When he first got here, I thought he was a little bit not himself. He’s really changed his attitude and played a lot better since that first year,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. “He’s very competitive; he has a little bit of that little man’s disease. He’s going to fight you all the time. I think he’s come a long way.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera relates to what Zimmer meant. He said he enjoyed coaching Munnerlyn because, in part, he’s “hard-headed, stubborn, tough, eager.”
The problem that first season in Minneapolis was unlearning all the instincts and muscle-memory from five seasons in Charlotte.
“I had to flush everything I learned in Carolina away and learn a new system,” Munnerlyn said.
Munnerlyn practices daily against Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who leads the NFL in receiving yards at 285. Munnerlyn said Diggs’ potential is massive.
“He’s got great hands and runs great routes. He has quickness, he can get in and out of cuts, he’s the total package.,” Munnerlyn said. “This guy is going to be very special. We know he’s a young guy, but he’s ready to take the next step. He reminds me a little bit of (Steelers wide receiver) Antonio Brown.”
Sooner or later Sunday, Munnerlyn should be matched against Benjamin, who had seven catches against the San Francisco 49ers for 108 yards and two touchdowns. What will Munnerlyn do in that situation?
“I’ll try to disrupt him a little bit at the line of scrimmage and play through his hands,” Munnerlyn said “If there’s a jump ball, he’s 6-6 so nine times out of 10 he’s going to win those. But I’ve got to try to play through his body and within in his hands. Just get my hands on a couple of footballs.”