Raymond steps from shadows into the spotlight

Rookie Mistral Raymond admits he might not have been ready for a starting role in September, but he maintains he is ready now. He'll get that chance now that Tyrell Johnson and Husain Abdullah have been placed on injured reserve.

When the Vikings drafted safety Mistral Raymond in the sixth round, his personal story of family tragedy took precedence to his anticipated role in the Vikings defense. Seven months later, his role on defense is receiving a significant boost – from a rarely used backup to a starter on Sunday.

Realistically, sixth-round draft picks are usually a coin-flip as to whether they make the team or not. Raymond had a strong preseason and made the 53-man roster. He was inactive for the first six games and, in his sixth game as an active member of the defense, he will make his first NFL start Sunday.

Raymond said the steps from being a wet-behind-the-ears rookie to a player prepared to be a full-time defender wouldn't have been possible if not for the assistance he has received from players like Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson – both of whom were placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday. Without their help, which he honestly didn't expect to get, Raymond said he would likely not be as prepared as he is to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

"They've helped tremendously from the moment I walked in," Raymond said. "I was kind of surprised with that coming in – see a young guy who wants to play and these guys want to keep their jobs and support their families. For them be so receptive to me and help me out was great."

Raymond admitted he wasn't sure if he was going to have much of a role with the Vikings defense after being deactivated the first six games, but said waiting your turn is part of the life of a late-round draft pick. It didn't happen how he envisioned – the team losing both starting safeties for the year in the same week – but he said being in line waiting to hear the cliché "next man up" is business as usual for young NFL players.

"It's nothing new," Raymond said. "It was like that in college ball. It's always been like that. Everything happens at just the right time. That's kind of how my life has been throughout the course of my career. It's good that this time has come, but you never want to win by default. You don't like the circumstances, but you can't change them. I'm ready for the moment."

Although Raymond wasn't a significant part of the Vikings defense for much of the season, he said the behind-the-scenes work that nobody sees has been ongoing for four months and that he's been working all season as though he is going to get the call to duty. Now that his time has arrived, he said the preparation was necessary and will hopefully start paying dividends Sunday.

"You've got to take pride in the work you put in day in and day out," Raymond said. "I've been preparing like I would be starting all along. That part hasn't changed because whether you're starting, a backup, on special teams or inactive, you have to come into each week trying to figure out what you can do to help the team win – whether it's being out there the whole game or just a handful of plays. That's how I've been approaching it."

By Raymond's own admission, the adjustment to the NFL is so epic that he isn't sure he would have been ready when the regular season began to have full workload. He said picking up the system without the benefit of offseason time at the facility, minicamps and OTAs presented a daunting learning curve. He wasn't ready then, but assured those within earshot Wednesday that he's ready to take his place in the starting lineup Sunday – saying the difference between the player he was Sept. 1 and the player he is Dec. 1 has changed markedly.

"It's day and night different," Raymond said. "When you first come on, you just want to learn the defense and the terminology. Once you pick that up, then you start working on your techniques. Then you need to adjust to the game speed and the fast pace in which the game is played. It's a process. I've been here since July and that time has helped me to learn all those things. I feel good about the situation."

Raymond admits that, when game time nears on Sunday, there may be a few butterflies in his stomach. He dreamed of this moment since high school and Sunday it will come true when he makes his first career start in the NFL, hoping the Vikings introduce the defense so he can get the player introduction pop from the crowd. While fans are expressing concern over two safeties with starting experience being put on I.R. on the same day, Raymond looks at his opportunity as a new day dawning.

"I've been preparing for this moment since the day I walked in here, so I'm really looking forward to it," Raymond said. "I'm getting my opportunity. That's all any player can ask. Now I have it and the only thing left to find out is what I do with my opportunity."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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Without their help, which he honestly didn't expect to get, Raymond said he would likely not be as prepared as he is to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. \"They've helped tremendously from the moment I walked in,\" Raymond said. \"I was kind of surprised with that coming in – see a young guy who wants to play and these guys want to keep their jobs and support their families. For them be so receptive to me and help me out was great.\" Raymond admitted he wasn't sure if he was going to have much of a role with the Vikings defense after being deactivated the first six games, but said waiting your turn is part of the life of a late-round draft pick. It didn't happen how he envisioned – the team losing both starting safeties for the year in the same week – but he said being in line waiting to hear the cliché \"next man up\" is business as usual for young NFL players. \"It's nothing new,\" Raymond said. \"It was like that in college ball. It's always been like that. Everything happens at just the right time. That's kind of how my life has been throughout the course of my career. It's good that this time has come, but you never want to win by default. You don't like the circumstances, but you can't change them. I'm ready for the moment.\" Although Raymond wasn't a significant part of the Vikings defense for much of the season, he said the behind-the-scenes work that nobody sees has been ongoing for four months and that he's been working all season as though he is going to get the call to duty. Now that his time has arrived, he said the preparation was necessary and will hopefully start paying dividends Sunday. \"You've got to take pride in the work you put in day in and day out,\" Raymond said. \"I've been preparing like I would be starting all along. 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