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Terence Newman ready to play any role

By Chris Tomasson

Pioneer Press

A former teammate of Terence Newman’s in Dallas has a nickname for him.

“Akin Ayodele calls me Benjamin Button,” said the Vikings cornerback. “I think that’s hilarious.”

In the 2008 movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the main character ages in reverse.

“That’s fitting,” Vikings safety Harrison Smith said. “There are no signs of him aging, so he could be going the opposite way.”

Newman, who will turn 39 in September, is the second-oldest defensive player in the NFL behind Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison — four months his senior. Yet last season, Pro Football Focus rated Newman the ninth-best cornerback in the NFL.

“My body feels awesome right now,” said Newman, entering his 15th season. “I actually feel better this offseason than I did last offseason at this point. That’s super crazy, because I did all the same things this year as I did last year.”

With Newman showing no signs of slowing down, the Vikings must figure out how to best use him. In his two previous seasons, he was the starting left cornerback. The Vikings might think Trae Waynes, their first-round draft pick in 2015, is ready to start there.

If that becomes the case, Newman could replace Captain Munnerlyn — who signed with Carolina as a free agent — as the nickel back. Newman said he’s been rotating with Mackensie Alexander throughout spring drills on the first team, and he was in that spot during an organized team activities session open to the media last Tuesday.

“I’ve played both sides at cornerback, safety and nickel since I’ve been here, so I’m comfortable wherever they put me,” Newman said. “I don’t care what my role is as long as I have a role.”

Considering Newman is a long-time favorite of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, he figures to continue playing a key role. Newman had two previous stints under Zimmer, being with him in Dallas (2003-06) and Cincinnati (2012-13) when he was a defensive coordinator.

Last March, Newman signed a one-year $3.25 million contract. With 41 career interceptions, he’s second among active players behind Washington safety DeAngelo Hall’s 43.

The list of cornerbacks still effective at Newman’s age is short. Two hall of famers to have done so are Darrell Green, who played until he was 42, and Deion Sanders, who lasted until 38.

“Every year since Terence has been here, he seems to be getting better,” Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “He’s still performing at a high level. I think he can play until (he’s 40). Whenever he does retire, I think it will come as a shock.”

Newman can’t say yet whether 2017 could be his final season.