There was something a little different about the defense beyond the scheme this year at Minnesota Vikings training camp.
The vocal jabs of Jamarca Sanford have been replaced by the intense coaching of Mike Zimmer in the defensive backfield, but Sanford said it’s just a matter of time before he’s comfortable enough to get back to his loud, extroverted self.
“I’ll be vocal. I have my days, but you can’t be too vocal when you don’t know the defense like you knew the old defense,” Sanford said. “You can be comfortable when you know what you’re bringing to the table. When you get more comfortable with this system – I’m just trying to find my place on this team.”
Sanford finds himself in a position he hasn’t been in for several years: struggling to get back into the starting lineup. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound safety has been a full-time starter for the past three seasons. This training camp has been a frustrating one, as injuries, a new system and a new coaching staff are all differences he will have to overcome before he can get back to that status.
Back spasms have limited his availability so far, but he said he’s ready to play in Saturday’s second preseason game after sitting out the opener because of his sore back.
“It’s big. Come game time, that’s when it really matters,” he said. “I’ve just got to go out and show them why I should be part of this team and what I bring to this team. I look forward to it.
“I’m good. I’m ready to go. I wish today was Saturday. I can’t until Saturday to get out there and just be with my teammates, have fun and make plays.”
The safety position opposite starter Harrison Smith is the biggest remaining question for the Vikings. Last week, the team signed veteran Chris Crocker, who has been in head coach Mike Zimmer’s defensive system for seven years. He likely will get the start on Saturday after another free-agent signee, Kurt Coleman, got the starting call in the preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders and produced the only interception of that game.
Andrew Sendejo, an injury replacement for Sanford for one game and Harrison Smith for nine games last year, will also receive extensive time against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Right now, I am looking for the other safety,” Zimmer said when asked about Sanford. “That is why I want to play these guys quite a bit this week. I want to see how it goes from there and then try to figure out the rest of the pecking order as we get going. Hopefully, this will be a big week for those safeties.”
Sanford will among those in the mix, but after missing the preseason opener and some time before that with his sore back, he isn’t considered the favorite.
“It’s frustrating coming from a starter and you’re on second team. You’ve just got to keep working. Complaining is not going to do anything,” he said. “You’ve just got to continue to work. Who wants to hear somebody complain? I haven’t been down this road before. I’m just waiting for Saturday to show this team what I can bring to this team – special teams, defense or whatever. I just look forward to Saturday and show them what I can do.”
Sanford knows that his back injury hasn’t helped his status and even echoed an oft-uttered football phrase that Zimmer used in talking about Josh Robinson: “You can’t make the club in the tub.”
But he can study when he isn’t on the field, and there is plenty to get accustomed to as players adapt to Zimmer’s defense. Sanford said most of the concepts in Zimmer’s scheme were also in last year’s defense, but the terminology is different and the blitz packages are expected to be used more often this year.
“He shows blitz every time. Everything looks the same so you never know what we’re really in,” Sanford said. “We’ll be in zone sometimes and he’ll give the quarterback a different look than what he’s expecting. Sometimes he expecting us to blitz and we just give them the same look. It’s just really important for us to give the same exact look.”
And once Sanford gets used to it, things might sound the same, too.
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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