Sanford turning into unexpected leader

A former seventh-round draft choice, Jamarca Sanford is entering his prime as a player and emerging as one of the leaders in the absence of Antoine Winfield. It may be a surprise to some, but not to Sanford.

One year can make all the difference in the world of an athlete. Goats are turned into heroes over that course of time and fringe players can become starters.

Such was the case for Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford. Last year in training camp, Sanford was battling for a starting safety spot it appeared he would lose. In fact, he did lose that battle, starting the regular season behind first-round draft pick Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond, who became a part-time starter in 2011.

As history played out on the Vikings defense, Smith performed admirably in his rookie season and Raymond was injured early, allowing Sanford to take full advantage of his chance to grab his starting spot.

This July, Sanford is the incumbent starter, but after the way things played out in 2012 he knows there is little security for his position, even if he did sign a two-year deal to remain with the Vikings in March.

"I wouldn't say security. You've still got to come in and get better each and every day. It's still a competition back there," Sanford said in the middle of the team's offseason practices.

"You don't ever get comfortable where you're at. Just continue to get better and just know that there's always room for improvement. Just stay on your grind and just know it's competition coming in each and every year and everybody around the league is working. Just try to outwork your opponent."

Sanford is part of a defensive backfield that will see how much difference a year can make. Last year, cornerback Antoine Winfield played in every game and continued to display his understated veteran leadership. These days, Winfield is in Seattle and the secondary got much younger when the Vikings released him and hoped to sign him to a lesser contract. Feeling snubbed, he chose the Seahawks over the Vikings.

It's not a business decision that seems to have started with head coach Leslie Frazier, who twice this offseason mentioned Sanford as one of the veteran players helping out his younger teammates like Winfield would have.

"He's not with us anymore," Frazier said of Winfield, "so we've got to find someone to step up and fill his spot. I don't think it's going to be one guy that does that. But I think it's going to be by committee. Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford are doing a good job of taking these young guys under their wings and teaching them."

During another interview, Frazier said Smith is also a player trying to step up the leadership void and wants to embrace that role, but Frazier again mentioned Sanford.

"I think Jamarca Sanford helps him with that, but there's a lot of growth from a confidence standpoint," Frazier said.

Sanford is one of the most vocal players on the team, whether it's encouraging a teammate or filling his ears with a good-natured ribbing. For him, his status as a starter or not is irrelevant to his role off the field.

"Me, personally, I always felt I always have been a leader. Everywhere I've been, I always have been the guy that people looked up to me and just called me a leader," Sanford said. "As 'Toine being gone, you've just got to answer some more questions and teach all the younger guys how to study film. That's really the biggest difference. Other than that, I just go out and be myself. I think that's enough to lead us."

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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