The ghost of Darren Sharper, or at the sentiments he left behind in Minnesota, re-appeared Sunday for the Vikings as they got two interceptions from one of their safeties.
Back in 2008, Sharper, who came to the Vikings with a reputation as a ball-hawking safety and one of the league's top all-time interceptors, said the team's Tampa-2 defensive approach didn't lend itself to safeties making many interceptions.
The only time a Vikings player had three interceptions in a game was in 2005 and it was Sharper while playing against the New York Giants. That was also the year in which he tied a career high with nine interceptions in a season. Not coincidentally, it was also the year before the Vikings implemented the Tampa-2 defense under then-coordinator Mike Tomlin in 2006.
"You look at the nature of this defense, safeties don't get too many interceptions. You don't have too many guys that run the Tampa-2 defense that lead the league in picks. That's not a factor. But you see the Tampa-2 defensive style works. It is effective," Sharper said in 2008, the second year of Leslie Frazier replacing Tomlin as the defensive coordinator.
On Sunday, safety Jamarca Sanford intercepted two passes, becoming the first Vikings safety to do that since Sharper. In fact, since Sharper left, the replacement safeties have struggled to even get two interceptions in a season. In 2009, Tyrell Johnson (15 starts) had one interception and Madieu Williams (16 starts) had none. Last year, Williams (13 starts) had one interception and Husain Abdullah (15 starts) had three.
But Sanford, who for the first time in his career is a full-time starter next to Abdullah, doesn't agree with Sharper's assessment of the defense limiting the ability of safeties make interceptions.
"I wouldn't say that. We've got a different defense. Our base D is Cover-2. Some defenses just play more aggressive. Like Ed Reed and them. I can't say that this defense doesn't let you have picks," Sanford said. "When the opportunity presents itself, you've just got to make plays. [On Sunday] I didn't do nothing special, just stayed on my landmarks."
Sanford said both of his interceptions Sunday came when the Vikings were playing a Cover-2 defensive scheme.
It turned out that not only was that the first two-interception game of Sanford's football career, but it was the first interception he had since playing in the Mississippi State High School Championship game for South Panola High in Batesville. Despite it being more than six years since he had an interception, Sanford still ended up with 40 yards on interception returns.
"It's something that was considered my weakness coming out. Just love to hit and I just had to start working on my skills. Coach and them do a good job working on my ball skills," Sanford said. "Just got to build my confidence up. Coach told me I had hands, but it's the confidence that I've got to build up."
Vikings coaches emphasized winning the turnover battle last week, and they came away with a 4-1 advantage over the Cardinals at Mall of America Field thanks to Sanford and Asher Allen's combined three interceptions.
"[They rose] to the challenge that was given them during the week about Larry Fitzgerald and [creating] turnovers," said coach Leslie Frazier. "I was really encouraged to see them execute the game plan."
Sharper admitted back in 2008 that the Tampa-2 defense was frustrating for a guy who entered that season with 53 interceptions, the most of any active player in the NFL at the time.
"Extremely [frustrated]. Extremely. I keep saying don't force things and let things come to you, but things haven't come to me," Sharper said after going the first seven games of the 2008 without an interception. "The main thing that's frustrating is because a lot of those times and what I've shown in the past is that when I do get my hands on the ball there might be a chance to score or even get good field position and that would help our team out. And I'm frustrated because of that, but I'm just not going to force things. They'll come."
Sanford had to wait until his third season to become a full-time starter, and then until his fifth game in that role to capitalize with an interception, but, like Sharper used to say, turnovers come in bunches. In fact, Sanford was acutely aware of the fact that he had at least two interception possibilities slip away.
"Another one hit me dead in the hands, and then another one, I had it but [linebacker Chad] Greenway knocked it down," Sanford said.
"That's something coach [had] been raving about all week, getting turnovers. We've got to create turnovers. He told us we had been playing pretty good D for the most part, but we've got to create turnovers. That's what changes the game around. We did a great job of it [Sunday] as a defense as a whole. The front four was doing a great job all day. He couldn't hold the ball, so hats go off to them for getting the pressure."
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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