It's hard to conceive a guy who turned 28 four months ago as an old man, but when it comes to the Vikings secondary Jamarca Sanford is the most experienced player on the roster. He's in his fifth season and is the old man of the group. Playing alongside Chris Cook (fourth season), Marcus Sherels (third year), Andrew Sendejo (third year), Mistral Raymond (third year), Harrison Smith (second year), Josh Robinson (second year), Shaun Prater (second year), Robert Blanton (second year), Robert Steeples (rookie) and Xavier Rhodes (rookie), the Vikings secondary is as young as any in the league.
While the group is growing together as they gain more experience, the issues that have befallen the secondary have been numerous. Injuries have sidelined all of the starters at some point in the season and it seems like every week there is a different starting combination in the defensive backfield. It's a problem this season, but it isn't anything new.
"Since I've been here, I don't think we've had a season where all of the starters have been able to play every game," Sanford said. "That's kind of the nature of football. Injuries happen. But it is a little more difficult when you're moving guys in and out as often as we've had to."
The problem the injury situation has created is that the players start building a rapport from knowing where the other guys are going to be and what everyone's responsibility is on a given play, but it simply hasn't happened for the Vikings.
"It can be a little frustrating, because you build a bond with those guys and you know what to expect from them every week," Sanford said. "You know what you like to do and you know what the other guys like to do and you work together better knowing that. We just haven't been able to keep everybody healthy and keep that continuity this season. Injuries are a part of football, but they've hit us pretty hard this season."
If there is an upside to the injury problem, it is that the Vikings have been able to get a much better look at their backup players and what their strengths and weaknesses are. While it can be frustrating not having the front-line starters playing together from one week to the next, Sanford believes the experience that the young Vikings D-backs are gaining will pay dividends down the line as they gain more confidence and improve their level of play.
"It's the nature of the NFL – one guy out and next guy up," Sanford said. "It creates more opportunities for those guys who come into the lineup to show the NFL what they can do. This is a game of opportunities and those guys are taking advantage of that opportunity. There are a lot of guys who can play but don't get the opportunity. They're getting that opportunity this year and take advantage of it. Guys like Sendejo and Prater have taken advantage of that opportunity and have showed that they can play at a high level."
In an ideal world, the 2014 Vikings will have Sanford, Smith, Rhodes and Robinson on the field at the same time for all 16 games (as well as Cook is he is re-signed in the offseason), and maybe an upgraded addition. To date, that hasn't happened, but as the Vikings reserves get more experience, the result will be more competition for playing time and the end result will be that the Vikings secondary will get better.
There is plenty of room for improvement, but Sanford believes that the young group will get stronger as time goes by and they learn the little things that turn good players into very good players. As he sees it, there is nowhere to go but up and this group of defensive backs has the talent and ability to be one of the strengths of the team.
"The sky is the limit," Sanford said. "Right now we have young guys that are just playing on their talent. This is my fifth year and I'm still learning each and every day – little techniques I can use to improve my game. We've got a lot of guys who are in their first or second year and they're only going to get better. If we can stay healthy and keep our group together, the sky is the limit as to how good we can be."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sanford sees promise, hope in young secondary
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