Jamarca Sanford will retain his starting job at safety despite the return of opening-day starter Mistral Raymond. It's a development that Sanford, who started the season as a backup, felt was justified.
"Me, personally, I feel that way, but it's not always my decision, what decision is made. All I can do is continue to do what I can do to make this team better and whatever happens, happens," Sanford said.
"Whatever coach wants me to do for this team, I'm willing to do it. As long as we keep winning, all I want to do is win. However that is, rotating or playing special teams, all I want to do is win."
Raymond started the first three games of the season, but a partially dislocated ankle suffered Sept. 23 against the San Francisco 49ers put Sanford back in the starting role alongside first-round draft pick Harrison Smith. Prior to this season, Sanford had started 18 of the 41 regular-season games he had played, including 15 last year.
"You always hope the guys that step in will play well and there won't be a big drop-off, but we felt like he was the backup for a reason, but he has really played better than we thought he would in a starting role, which is a credit to him," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said of Sanford. "He didn't win a job coming out of training camp, but he's really, really played well for us."
Frazier said Sanford would "probably" start Sunday against the Chicago Bears while Raymond would continue to work his way in the rotation. Raymond played for the first time in seven games against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 11. He took 40 percent of the defensive snaps to Sanford's 60 percent.
"(Raymond) is pretty much 100 percent now, but Jamarca has been playing really well for us so we'll probably split duty again on Sunday," Frazier said.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said it's no secret why Sanford is maintaining the starting job for now – he's playing well – and Sanford pointed to his offseason routine on why he was ready when called upon.
"I approached this offseason already to be a starter. It didn't work out that way, but what I'm doing, I put in the work every offseason. It's surprising to a lot of people, but I feel like as a player I've grown every year I've been in this league. The more you're in this league, the better you get each and every year," Sanford said, adding where he made the biggest improvements.
"Just in the passing game and getting more familiar with offenses and what they like to do in this league. The more you play, the more familiar you are with teams and the more comfortable you get."
Frazier called Raymond "a long guy who helps you down the field," but the Bears might not be inclined to pass as much as usual given their struggles protecting the quarterback and the fact that starting QB Jay Cutler hasn't yet been cleared to play after suffering a concussion that kept him out of Monday night's game.
That could mean additional emphasis on stopping Matt Forte and the running game. That's Sanford's forte.
"He's playing well. He's playing physical," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said of Sanford. "What people I don't think realize is how good of a leader Jamarca is, how well he communicates across the defense and how much the guys respect him as a player. So it's a good thing to have when you have a lot of players who are asking, ‘Why isn't such and such in the ballgame? Why isn't such and such playing?' That's a good thing. I've been in situations where you've had to get someone else in there because no one's playing well. I think guys are playing well across the board. Whoever we put in, they're playing winning football, so that's a good thing."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sanford earns extended starting duty
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