Jamarca Sanford is back in the starting saddle again.
Sanford originally got his first starting opportunity because of injury to Madieu Williams at the end of the 2010 season; now Sanford is back as at least a temporary starter while Mistral Raymond recovers from an ankle injury.
To get this point, however, Sanford, who has started 18 of his 44 regular-season games, had to go through the crushing disappointment of being told he lost his starting job from last year to Raymond and rookie Harrison Smith.
"It hurt me. I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt me, but you've got to be strong. That's part of the business," Sanford said, giving credit to Percy Harvin, Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson for helping him through the hurt. "All of them just kept complimenting me – keep working. I just kept working and kept preparing every week. I already knew I was one play away."
That one play came quickly. In the first quarter of Sunday's upset win over the San Francisco 49ers, Raymond ran toward the line of scrimmage to make a tackle on running back Frank Gore. Instead, it appeared that Raymond's cleat stuck in the turf and his ankle twisted awkwardly, suffering a bone bruise and partial subluxation.
Sanford was quickly back on the field getting his most extensive playing time of the season next to Smith, the Vikings' first-round draft pick. He will likely remain in that role for at least a few weeks, maybe more than a month, as Raymond recovers.
"I'm approaching it like I've been starting the whole time and I'm going out and ready to go to Detroit and make plays," Sanford said.
Sanford's biggest test Sunday came against 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. With Davis streaking down the right sideline in the third quarter, Sanford was in position but didn't locate the ball, allowing a 20-yard reception to the 1-yard line and setting up San Francisco's only touchdown.
"I came back this year and I just felt like they told me to be ready to improve on covering tight ends," Sanford said. "I felt like in training camp I did that. I showed improvement. I felt like I was bending better and just had a better feel for the game."
The Davis play didn't work in Sanford's favor, but the safety forced Gore's first fumble in 255 touches on the 49ers' next possession, a ball that the Vikings recovered.
"I thought he did a good job when he got in there. He had the one play down the sideline with Davis, who presents a lot of problems for anybody that tries to cover him in a one-on-one situation," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "But other than that, he tackled well. He had a big tackle against Gore in the open field, which was good to see. He was good on his assignments."
Sanford switched his focus slightly in the offseason. Instead of focusing heavily on the weight room with which he has become so familiar, he decided to add more cardio to his workouts, doing cross-fit training and running.
He slimmed up, lost body fat and took to heart what he saw on a DVD of his play last year.
"It just seemed a lot of plays where I was playing like I was tired or playing high. I just came back this year and focused on my weakness," he said.
No doubt the Vikings placed an emphasis on improving their safety play. They traded back into the first round to select Smith 29th overall in April's draft.
But Chad Greenway said Sanford playing well in relief of Raymond Sunday wasn't a surprise.
"You ask him to do anything and he's capable of doing it. He's one of our biggest hitters and a big playmaker, too," Greenway said.
"It's hard to say he even got beat out (of the starting job). From our perspective in the locker room, it's one of those things that eventually you have to make a decision. I don't think Jamarca played his way out of a position. I think a decision just had to be made and it was made. When he walks into the huddle, he's one of us. He's a starter."
He is once again.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sanford overcomes setback, starting again
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