Blanton's goal: Compete to start

Injuries limited Robert Blanton's opportunities as a rookie, but he spent the season learning and performing mainly as a special teams coverage man. This year, he believes he is ready to compete for a starting job.

Robert Blanton's goal is to go from essentially a defensive afterthought to a man with a chance to compete for a starting job.

As a rookie, Blanton played in only 5 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2012. He ended up with five tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass defensed in 56 snaps.

Despite that limited usage on defense, Blanton is hoping his rookie season of immersion into the defensive system can translate to more opportunities to show his potential and compete for a rotational role – or greater – on defense.

"That's my goal. That's my goal all offseason to get better so I can come in here and compete and show that I can be the best," Blanton said.

That might be a difficult task given the strong rookie performance turned in by 2012 first-round draft choice Harrison Smith and the Vikings re-signing fellow starting safety Jamarca Sanford to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract in March. Mistral Raymond, who entered last season as the starter, also remains on the roster.

Last year, Blanton made his mark on special teams. He played in 51 percent of the snaps on various coverage and return units and was fifth on the Vikings with 10 tackles on special teams.

"He did a great job on special teams. He really came on for us as the year came on," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "Now you would like to see him take another step after he's had a chance to be in our system now for the second offseason in a row, stay healthy."

Like most young players, Blanton's first season in the league basically turned in a study session. This year, he admits the offseason has been "a lot easier" because of his familiarity with the defense.

The 2012 fifth-round draft pick has taken a look at his limited exposure last year and says he learned a few things during his rookie season.

"Just making sure I study myself, always coach myself up and make sure I get better each day," Blanton said. "Always work on your technique and make sure you know your alignment, assignment and your keys. Run to the ball and great things happen."

Blanton showed impressive versatility at Notre Dame, playing both cornerback and safety. Last year, the Vikings gave him some work as a nickel cornerback in practices, but he said his 2013 offseason work schedule so far has been spent strictly concentrating on safety.

Still, the skills he learned playing both positions in college and his limited exposure at cornerback last year will help him at safety, he believes.

"I think it helps out a lot. I love playing man coverage. I'm great at it, and I love playing safety as well. It's pretty fun," he said.

Blanton called his position coach, Joe Woods, "amazing" and said the concentration with him has been on technique this year. Despite a young secondary, he said teammates have also been helpful.

"We all help and communicate and talk with one another and help each other out in meetings. If somebody sees something wrong, you'll try to lend a helping hand, try to correct it and get it fixed," he said. "We all want to be the best, so it's great."

Another key factor in Blanton's increased odds of more playing time this year is his health. Last year, he suffered a hamstring injury in one of the first practices of training camp and missed preseason action because of that. It continued to linger for the first part of the regular season, and then a late-season neck injury hampered his opportunities, too.

"He was banged up in training camp so he missed a lot of time a year ago. Being able to stay healthy would be a big plus for us because we think he has the athletic ability, we think he has the coverage skills to be a real good safety," Frazier said. "We know he'll tackle, but now can he stay healthy and consistently help our team? We'll see once we get the pads on how much he's improved."

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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