Minnifield may be steal

if he remains healthy

ASHBURN -- When the NFL red-flagged him before the draft, teams were scared off by two words: microfracture surgery. So cornerback Chase Minnifield went from high-round prospect to intriguing undrafted free agent.

This is what they say now about the rookie cornerback: He could be a steal. He could help a team. He could, someday, become a starter.

If (and that's the loaded word) Minnifield is healthy -- and it must be noted he practiced this spring for the Redskins, less than six months after surgery on his right knee.

"I'm out here to prove everyone wrong," Minnifield said. "But I don't have much to prove. My game will talk for itself."

This talk of slights and motivation is nothing new.

"Chase hasn't changed one bit," said his father, Frank, a Pro Bowl corner from 1984-92 with Cleveland. "That's just his personality."

For now, all Chase Minnifield proved is that he can play well in shorts and a helmet, as he did in the June minicamp. There's a long way to go to declare him a success story. But still ...

"If the kid turns out to be healthy, he'll be a great steal for them," said Russ Lande, the Sporting News' draft analyst and a former NFL scout. "He's a legit starting corner in the NFL: great length, very good ability and natural ball skills. A tough kid. ... Hopefully a year from now he blossoms into the player he was before he hurt his knee. It's a great risk to take."

Here's why:

It's not just about facing a receiver one-on-one, though Minnifield likes those matchups.

"He doesn't think there's any receiver out there that can beat him," said his father, who passed down that confident gene.

But it's more than that. In high school, Minnifield remembers his son falling asleep at his desk at home after long nights of studying.

"He was too scared to go to bed," Frank said. "He wasn't happy unless he had the best grades in the whole school."

Once, Chase Minnifield and his dad had hours to kill on a long drive. So they started competing, first with a contest to see who could spot the most yellow cars. Then it was to see who could first read the license plate of the car ahead of them. Then it was to see who could remember the most details of a scene as they exited a ramp.

"Everything has to be a competition with him," his dad said. "Everything. All you've gotta do is let him know what the game is and then you've got a formidable opponent. He'll do what he can to win."

Chip West, who coached Minnifield the past two seasons as Virginia's defensive backs coach, said, "Whether it was practice or a game it was every day, every week. I have a million and one stories, but the way he practiced is the way he played in a game. It carried over."

And when Minnifield didn't hear his name called during the draft, he immediately went to work out.

"I'm going to be better than I ever was," he said.

While watching film leading up to a game vs. Maryland last season, Minnifield noticed that, when in the red zone, if the Cavaliers showed bump-and-run coverage and bailed out it would con the Terps into a bad play. It worked: Minnifield broke up a pass.

"That was one time where his film study really helped him," West said. "But there are so many instances like that."

Another example of prep work, something his father was known for as a pro: During the Cavs' training camp, Minnifield would chart receiver distribution, writing down every concept the offense would show them and where each receiver would line up.

"He was always looking at tape. Always," West said. "He was a professional."

Minnifield not only competed for good grades, he received them. He also earned his degree in sociology from Virginia in three-and-a-half years. And he's one semester shy of a Master's degree in education.

"All his hopes aren't on pro football," his father said. "When it became apparent that the entire National Football League had concerns about his knee it wasn't like people were on the ground crying. It is what it is, and we'll deal with it. That's about it."

And he's smart enough to realize this:

"I had an unfortunate situation, and I'll come out and put everything into it," Minnifield said. "I believe in my skills. I believe in my abilities. Everything should be all right."