Vikings safety Mistral Raymond appeared to have a starting job at safety wrapped up in 2012. Injury and the performance of his competition changed that.
Raymond won a training camp battle with Jamarca Sanford to start alongside first-round draft pick Harrison Smith coming out of the preseason. Sanford and Raymond had split repetitions throughout organized team activities and training camp, but when a starter had to be named for the regular-season opener, Raymond got the opportunity. For the first three games of the season that remained the case, but a gruesome-looking dislocated ankle during the Sept. 23 game against the San Francisco 49ers changed things.
Sanford replaced Raymond in that game, and for the next six games while Raymond recovered from the injury. On Nov. 11, the Vikings started working Raymond back onto the playing field, but he never reclaimed his starting job, playing in about one-third of the defensive snaps for the season. He and Sanford took turns rotating at strong safety, but Sanford maintained the starting job.
"It was something that once I came back and we started getting back into the rotation of things, being in this league and having the opportunity to do what you love to do, you want to be out there as much as you possibly can," Raymond said after the season. "I want to start, Jamarca wants to start, Harrison wants to start. I'm sure (Andrew) Sendejo wants to start. I'm sure there are thousands of free agents who would love to come in here and start at safety. The fact of the matter is there are only going to be two guys."
Smith started all 16 games and performed well in his rookie season. Sanford ended up starting 13 games, and Raymond had only those three starts at the beginning of the season.
Despite the competition for playing time, Raymond said things never went sour between him and Sanford.
"It was frustrating at first, but when you look at it and you start to look at the things you're doing individually and you look at the big picture and, say, ‘Hey, we're winning and maybe this is working for us right now.' You buy into that, so it was just something, it was a weird situation, but it worked out for us. It honestly did," Raymond said. "We all got in and contributed and made some plays and we learned from each other and we fed off each other's energy. There was never a moment … what I respect about especially Jamarca the most, there was never an awkward moment. I just seemed natural. We never collided or bumped heads. It was working for the both of us, especially with him being in his contract year and all that stuff. He put team above self and I put team above self and it worked for us."
It did. The Vikings went from 24th in yards per passing play in 2011 to 10th in 2012.
Sanford is scheduled to be a free agent on March 12 if he isn't re-signed, but Raymond said the Vikings got some "key pieces" in the secondary last year, including Smith and cornerbacks A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson. Eventually, they got to the point where they were relying on each other and feeling comfortable playing together.
"It was just a great turnaround for us," Raymond said. "You can't discount what we did, the turnaround we had. We're just going to continue to build on those things and hopefully in 2013 we'll be back up and running."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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