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MSU's Trae Waynes on 'steep' learning curve in NFL

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Trae Waynes

Berea, Ohio — Former Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes is quickly learning why jumping from college to the NFL is tougher at his position than some others.

In addition to adjusting to the increased speed of professional wide receivers, the playbook is much more complex than in college.

"It's steep," Waynes said of the learning curve, during an NFL Play 60 event Friday at the rookie symposium. "It's like a mountain, but luckily we have guys on the team and the coaching staff that are willing to help you out through that process."

The Minnesota Vikings drafted Waynes 11th overall this year after researching him extensively during the pre-draft process, including visits by coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman to East Lansing for the Spartans' pro day. At 6-foot, 186 pounds and with a 4.31-second 40-yard dash, Waynes was the first cornerback drafted.

But at Michigan State, Waynes played with less variety than he will in the NFL. In 2013, Waynes was the field cornerback, playing the side with more space between the ball and the sideline. When Darqueze Dennard left for the NFL, Waynes moved to the boundary, playing closer to the sideline.

In order to contribute on defense as a rookie, though, Waynes might have to learn to play nickel as the Vikings have ascending third-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes and signed veteran Terence Newman, who played most of his career under Zimmer in Cincinnati.

"It's a new experience, but I'm enjoying it," Waynes said of learning the slot duties. "It's a lot more to learn, but I've just got to get my head in the playbook and learn every day."

And during meetings, Waynes said he's constantly taking notes to learn the vast playbook. In order to play, he understands he'll have to earn the trust of the coaches, and if he doesn't the consequences could be worse than in college.

"College was tough, but here it's your job and you're competing for it every day," he said. "If you don't perform, you miss out."

Waynes said he's looking forward to playing for the Vikings and a coach like Zimmer, who has been working with defensive backs since the 1980s. For now, Waynes said his goal is to contribute, but that doesn't mean he won't work to be a starter.

"I'm going to try for that, yeah, but I'm just trying to do my part to help, if it's on special teams, if it's on defense, whatever," he said.