The Vikings did bring in Taylor Mays this offseason, but he is thought to be more of a special team standout than a defensive starter. One of the players that is believed to be in contention for the starting spot is Andrew Sendejo.
He was primarily a special teams player a year ago and was very good at what he did. He led the team in special team tackles with 13 and also had a 48-yard rush on fourth down against the Chicago Bears. His play ultimately led to the Vikings naming him their special teams player of the year.
Sendejo also got time in at safety when Blanton was out with injury. He started the final three games of the season even though Blanton was healthy enough to play in the final two. This could be because the Vikings felt as though Sendejo was playing well enough to earn the starting spot, or they could have been continuing to rest Blanton since they were out of the playoff hunt and had no need to rush him back.
In those final three games Sendejo started, he recorded 19 tackles, one quarterback hit and one pass defensed. The numbers do not jump off the page by any means but clearly there was something about his performance that the Vikings liked.
This offseason General Manager Rick Spielman said that they know what they have in Sendejo. He did not go into much more detail than that, but if the end of the 2014 season is any indication they could be looking at him to start the 2015 season.
Viking Update looks at some of the plays that Sendejo was able to make last year to see what the Vikings have in him moving forward.
Play No. 1Even though this play is not one on the defensive side of the ball, it is still an important one. As mentioned earlier, Sendejo (34) recorded a 48-yard rush on a fourth-down special teams play. It shows that he has the ability to make big plays when given the chance.
Not only did he show that ability, but he had the chance to show off his speed as well. Speed could be one of the most important attributes in the game of football and it is why so many people put so much stock into the 40-yard dash. Once Sendejo was able to get around the outside of the offensive line, he got up field in a hurry, running past multiple players. And if he did not trip himself up at the end would have scored a touchdown.
Even if Sendejo earns the starting safety position opposite Smith, he will likely still be used on special teams. There are numerous times when special teams will be the deciding factor in a game, so having the ability to make a big play can often keep a role player on a team. In Sendejo’s case, it could be the factor that launches him into a starting role.
Play No. 2On this play Sendejo is playing on the defensive side of the ball and is able to make another big play. It is the second quarter and the Vikings are beating the New York Jets 21-12. The Jets had driven down the field and are in the red zone threatening to score.
Chris Ivory is lined up in the backfield and receives the handoff. He runs straight up the middle of the field and had an open hole straight into the end zone. Sendejo was able to step into the middle of the hole, stop Ivory short of the end zone and strip him of the ball. The Vikings were able to recover the ball, stopping the Jets from scoring.
The first impressive part of this play is that Sendejo took on the running back one-on-one in the hole the way he did. Ivory is known as a big, powerful runner and he is not easily stopped once he gets moving. But Sendejo was still willing to get in front of him and stop him short of the end zone. This willingness to get his hands dirty in the box is important because it allows Smith, who is a versatile player, to move around and complete other assignments.
The other impressive part of this play is that he was able to strip the ball. In the 198 carries that Ivory had last year, he only put the ball on the ground twice. This shows that it is hard to make him fumble, and to do that right on the goal line is even more impressive because it could not have come at a better time.
If Sendejo is able to continue to make these plays when he is given the chance, he will earn a spot in the defensive backfield in some fashion.
Play No. 3This next play shows that Sendejo also has the ability to line up on a player and make a stop in the passing game. Sendejo measures 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, and on this play he is lined up against Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, who comes in at 6-foot-6, 256 pounds. That is quite a difference in both height and weight, but Sendejo is still able to make the stop.
It is fourth-and-9 when the ball is snapped for this play with less than two minutes to go. Sendejo begins right on Bennett, but gets bumped off a little when the tight end breaks off his route. That is right when he catches the ball, so there is space between him and Sendejo for Bennett to make a move.
That doesn’t happen, however, as Sendejo is quickly able to close on him and make the stop. The Vikings were only beating the Bears by four points, so this was a big play for him to make. By turning the ball over on downs here, Sendejo helped secure the Vikings victory this week.
Play No. 4This next play shows another skill that Sendejo has on the defensive side of the ball and that is an ability to recognize a play and quickly react. The Detroit Lions line up in a bunch formation on the far side of the field. Sendejo is lined up in the safety position, but is lined up over one of the receivers.
The Lions try to run a screen, but Sendejo is able to react right away and make a stop. From the moment the ball is snapped to the time the receiver catches the ball, Sendejo is able to cover about 15 yards and reach the receiver right after the ball arrives. The receiver has no time to get up field and only gains 1 yard.
The ability to recognize plays this quickly and then make the play is important because it can help limit big plays. There were not many other Vikings defenders on that side of the field who were unblocked, so it was very important that Sendejo get there in a hurry and make the stop.
Play No. 5Even though he does a lot of things right, Sendejo is by no means a finished project and perfect player. There are still things he needs to learn and things he needs to improve. This is one of those mistakes.
On this play it appears that Sendejo is covering a zone on his side of the field and Smith has one on the other side. It looks like Sendejo should have gone up to cover the Dolphins tight end that finds a soft spot in the zone in front of him, but instead he seems to get tangled with Xavier Rhodes and Mike Wallace when they run deep down the middle of the field.
Rhodes had Wallace covered well and they were running across the field to Smith’s side. If Sendejo was able to avoid those two, he could have run up to Charles Clay and either held him for a shorter gain or stopped the play all together.
Sendejo is still a relatively inexperienced player on defense so he will make mistake from time to time. But if he is able to earn a starting spot, he has shown that he has the potential to become a solid player for them.
There aren’t a lot of positions that are up for grab among the Vikings defense, but safety is one of them. It will be interesting to see what happens throughout organized team activities, training camp and the preseason at the safety position. And if Sendejo plays well, it is very possible he could earn the starting spot.