Antoine Winfield continuing to defy the odds

Posted May 28, 2013

Antoine Winfield stands out in Seattle’s oh-so-big, oh-so-young secondary for the reverse reasons. But despite having other options, the veteran cornerback signed with the Seahawks to be their nickel back.

When Kam Chancellor was asked about Antoine Winfield after Monday’s OTA session, the Seahawks’ super-strong strong safety broke into the slyest of smiles while shaking his head.

“He’s very crafty out there,” Chancellor said. “Sometimes you see him break on routes and it’s like he knew the route was coming.”

Chalk it up to experience, which the 35-year-old Winfield has in surplus after playing the past nine seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and his first five in the league with the Buffalo Bills, the team that selected him in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft.

“I don’t think there’s many routes that I haven’t seen in my 14 years of playing,” Winfield said.

To put that into head-shaking perspective, when Winfield played his first NFL game – against the Peyton Manning-quarterbacked Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome on Sept. 12, 1999 – Chancellor and All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman were 11; cornerback Brandon Browner was 15; and All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas was 10.

To further flog this he’s-old, they’re-not comparison, Winfield has played in 191 games during his 14-season NFL career, with 173 starts. Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman and Browner have 155 games and 133 starts between them in their combined 10 NFL seasons.

But here Winfield is, right in the middle of this long-limbed Legion of Boom secondary as the nickel back after being signed last month as a free agent. Make that the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Winfield, who sticks out for the reverse reason when huddled between the massive bodies of Browner (6-4, 221), Chancellor (6-3, 232), Sherman (6-3, 195) and Thomas (5-10, 202).

“I’ve played football a long time and they are very talented – all across the board; both the corners, both safeties,” Winfield said. “By far, the No. 1 secondary in the league. These guys, the way they work, I see why they’re No. 1.

“These guys have a great secondary. I’m just trying to add to it.”

And that’s why Winfield is here, to enhance the unit by using his quickness and savvy as the nickel back, where the Seahawks too often were victimized last season during their opponents’ last-second rallies in losses to the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.

“We’re real pleased to have him here,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “He has real good awareness, just like you’d expect from a guy who has played as long as he has. And he is able to transfer that. It’s, ‘OK, this foot told me this information, this route is coming and I play it this way.’ ”

With Winfield it’s not just how long he has played, but who he has played with – and against.

When he arrived in Buffalo, the Bills still had Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed. Once he got to Minnesota, he counted Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Williams, Darren Sharper and Jared Allen among his teammates.

Winfield’s first career interception came against Manning, as a rookie. His first career sack? Manning, again, in 2003. Also count Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Favre among the QBs he has picked in compiling his 27 career interceptions; Rodgers, Drew Brees, Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb among those he has dropped in collecting 7.5 career sacks.

He also has scored five touchdowns – two off interceptions, two more on fumble returns and the fifth with a blocked field goal.

Winfield was good coming out of Ohio State, where he was an All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner as a senior. He’s still good, despite being 35 and possessing the size that belies his big-play ability.

“He feels the other way, where you wouldn’t get that,” Quinn said of Winfield’s refusal to give in to age or any opponent. “The way he jumps in and he likes to practice. He fits right in with what we’re trying to do.”

Winfield also fits right in where there’s a need, after the club decided not to re-sign long-time-starter-turned-nickel-back-for-a-season Marcus Trufant when he became an unrestricted free agent in March. While some might view the move to nickel back as a demotion or slight, Winfield, as Trufant did, is embracing the role – even though he started all 16 games and produced the second-high tackle total (101) of his career last season.

“The nickel spot is different,” he said. “Outside, most of the time, you can use the sideline. But in the slot, there’s more room. The receiver can go inside, outside, so you have a lot more ground to cover. So usually the smaller, quicker guys are in the slot.”

Like Winfield. “That’s me,” he said.

Is he still as fast as he was? “Oh no, not at all. Are you as fast as you used to be?” he said with a laugh. “Playing in this league, this will be my 15th season, a lot of bumps, a lot of bruises. It does kind of slow you down. But I’m still quick. I can still play.”

It also helps that Winfield is playing where he wanted to after the Vikings released him in a salary-cap move. The Vikings talked about re-signing him, but he wasn’t listening.

“How it came about, it made my decision a lot easier,” Winfield said. “It wasn’t like I wanted to leave. I was kind of scooted out the door. That’s just the business, I understand that, too.”

But Winfield also knew he stilled loved the game and wanted a chance to play on a team capable of getting him to his ultimate destination.

“I knew Seattle had a great team,” he said. “I just wanted a chance to compete for a championship, and I thought my best place to go was here.

“Once I had an opportunity to look around, Seattle was my No. 1 choice.”