Raymond training his eyes, opening others'

Mistral Raymond, the player that ended the Vikings' dubious streak without an interception last year, is making plays in camp and learning how to read and react better. He talked about his progress, what he's learned and the importance of interceptions.

For Mistral Raymond, training camp means training his eyes.

The Minnesota Vikings' second-year safety is making a bid to become one of the team's two starting safeties, a position that has been lacking in playmakers since Darren Sharper left the Vikings in 2008 for a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints.

Despite being a sixth-round draft pick for the Vikings in 2011, Raymond ended up starting the final five games of the season after injuries ended the seasons of Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson.

Neither of those players are on the roster anymore and Raymond finds himself part of a three-player race for two starting spots. He's learning how to become a playmaker in the back end of a defense that sorely needs it.

"At the safety position, it's all about training your eyes," Raymond said. "You try to learn from guys that have played the position. You can learn from a guy like Antoine (Winfield), who plays the corner position, the nickel position. It's all about eye control. You just try to train your eyes and focus in on the task at hand and execute your assignment."

Last year, Raymond was the player that ended the Vikings' nine-game streak without an interception when he came down with an interception on a Rex Grossman pass against the Washington Redskins.

Raymond said this week that he didn't even know about the streak last year, but he was still happy to end it when he was informed about the significance of his only interception of 2011.

"I didn't know anything about it until after it ended. I didn't even realize it," he said. "You're going with the flow of things. When you look back at that, we know it's not a good thing. We don't care about the situation, the (interception) record or any of that. In the scheme of things, us not creating turnovers is not good for our team. We're out here right now trying to change that."

The Vikings managed only eight interceptions all of last season. He said coaches and players are both well aware of how important interceptions can be.

"Absolutely. With the way things went last year, we all know the story. The momentum factor that you get with a turnover, you can't even begin to explain how much it does for your team and for your offense and for your special teams unit for field position," Raymond said. "It's big for us and it's something that we're definitely focusing on. We're out there every day stripping balls and trying to get our hands on balls. Hopefully it will show up on game days."

Raymond is expected to be a starter again for the preseason opener Friday night in San Francisco, but interceptions may be hard to come by for two reasons. First, the first-team defense isn't expected to play much more than the first quarter and, second, 49ers QB Alex Smith threw only five interceptions last year.

Raymond showed during Monday's practice that he can be a safety that reads the eyes of the quarterback, recognizes a play and breaks on the pass. He did that when he intercepted a Christian Ponder pass intended for tight end Rhett Ellison.

"It definitely was a play I've seen before and I anticipated it," Raymond said. "That's just the way the game goes. It's all about making the best of the opportunity when you do get it and catching the ball. That's what it's about. For me, it's just all about repetitions. The more repetitions, the more comfortable you'll be."

Raymond will be competing for a starting spot with first-round draft pick Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford, who started 15 games last year.

Defensive coordinator Alan Williams sees promise in Raymond, who also started 10 games at cornerback his senior season at the University of South Florida. Williams called Raymond "an athletic safety."

"He still has cover skills that have not diminished since we put him at safety from the time that he was playing corner," Williams said. "He's still learning on the go, a young safety. We're looking to put him in as many situations as we can so that when it comes time for him to play on Sundays it's not the first time that he's done it or seen it or been in it. He still has a ways to go, but we like his potential."

Raymond said his rookie season taught him patience, as he was inactive for the first six games and didn't get to start until December.

"You're not going to learn everything overnight. You're not going to understand the entire scheme of things overnight," Raymond said. "It comes with time and it definitely comes with repetition. Once I got to get the game reps, things started to pick up a lot more for me.

"… You just want to prove it to the guys that you're on the field with that you're capable of playing and you're capable of doing your job and executing and helping us win ballgames. I just wanted the guys to know that. I'm here to help them win. That's what I'm about."


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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It's all about eye control. You just try to train your eyes and focus in on the task at hand and execute your assignment.\" Last year, Raymond was the player that ended the Vikings' nine-game streak without an interception when he came down with an interception on a Rex Grossman pass against the Washington Redskins. Raymond said this week that he didn't even know about the streak last year, but he was still happy to end it when he was informed about the significance of his only interception of 2011. \"I didn't know anything about it until after it ended. I didn't even realize it,\" he said. \"You're going with the flow of things. When you look back at that, we know it's not a good thing. We don't care about the situation, the (interception) record or any of that. In the scheme of things, us not creating turnovers is not good for our team. We're out here right now trying to change that.\" The Vikings managed only eight interceptions all of last season. He said coaches and players are both well aware of how important interceptions can be. \"Absolutely. With the way things went last year, we all know the story. The momentum factor that you get with a turnover, you can't even begin to explain how much it does for your team and for your offense and for your special teams unit for field position,\" Raymond said. \"It's big for us and it's something that we're definitely focusing on. We're out there every day stripping balls and trying to get our hands on balls. Hopefully it will show up on game days.\" Raymond is expected to be a starter again for the preseason opener Friday night in San Francisco, but interceptions may be hard to come by for two reasons. First, the first-team defense isn't expected to play much more than the first quarter and, second, 49ers QB Alex Smith threw only five interceptions last year. Raymond showed during Monday's practice that he can be a safety that reads the eyes of the quarterback, recognizes a play and breaks on the pass. He did that when he intercepted a Christian Ponder pass intended for tight end Rhett Ellison. \"It definitely was a play I've seen before and I anticipated it,\" Raymond said. \"That's just the way the game goes. It's all about making the best of the opportunity when you do get it and catching the ball. That's what it's about. For me, it's just all about repetitions. The more repetitions, the more comfortable you'll be.\" Raymond will be competing for a starting spot with first-round draft pick Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford, who started 15 games last year. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams sees promise in Raymond, who also started 10 games at cornerback his senior season at the University of South Florida. Williams called Raymond \"an athletic safety.\" \"He still has cover skills that have not diminished since we put him at safety from the time that he was playing corner,\" Williams said. \"He's still learning on the go, a young safety. We're looking to put him in as many situations as we can so that when it comes time for him to play on Sundays it's not the first time that he's done it or seen it or been in it. He still has a ways to go, but we like his potential.\" Raymond said his rookie season taught him patience, as he was inactive for the first six games and didn't get to start until December. \"You're not going to learn everything overnight. You're not going to understand the entire scheme of things overnight,\" Raymond said. \"It comes with time and it definitely comes with repetition. 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