With the pads going on for the last two practices at training camp, Jayron Kearse, a safety who is listed at 6-foot-4 but says he is 6-5, wanted to show he could be physical.
On Monday, he showed he can be a playmaker in the Minnesota Vikings defense.
Kearse intercepted a misplaced throw from rookie quarterback Joel Stave, the kind of play that can help catch the attention of coaches.
“Really just being in the position the coaches put me in. Reading the quarterback’s eyes, doing the things I was taught to do and getting the jump on it,” Kearse said of the interception.
“It’s not too difficult if you discipline yourself that way. That’s something I always wanted to do, playing football, especially playing safety. These coaches are pushing that, making sure I’m doing the little things right.”
The coaches are also trying to figure out the right mix of safeties at a crowded position that is still searching for its second starter next to Pro Bowler Harrison Smith. For now, Andrew Sendejo is the favorite who has spent most of camp practicing next to Smith with the first-team defense.
Kearse is, by far, the tallest of those in the safety competition to make the 53-man roster.
“My biggest thing is just staying low. Me being 6-5, that’s tough, but I’ve been working on it through the offseason and still working on it,” he said. “Coming out and being physical, you either want to or you don’t, so that’s not a problem for me. It’s just about me staying low.”
He says being physical isn’t an issue for him, but being that tall means he also has to stay low to get into his breaks quickly. Being in the right place at all times is a learning process, but so far it seems Kearse has avoided the ire of head coach Mike Zimmer, who is a particular on player alignment.
“He’s a defensive backs guy. That’s big for me, me being a taller guy and knowing he has a rep for developing bigger guys in the back end,” Kearse said.
Kearse was asked why Zimmer likes tall safeties.
“Maybe it’s the range. Guys that are longer, they close windows when you’re a bigger guy. Maybe that’s what it is.”
Smith said he has never seen a safety as tall as Kearse.
“He’s a specimen, and he moves well and runs well,” Smith said. “He’s a good kid. I think we’re all excited for what he can bring to the table.”
Monday’s interception was an example of Kearse’s range and catch radius, but Zimmer said the safety spots will be won by how they perform in preseason games.
“We’ll see them in games. I know what Sendejo is and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of Exum,” Zimmer said. “(Michael) Griffin and Kearse, those guys I’ve got to continue to see more.”
For now and through the next week-plus, practice performance will have to do for Kearse, but Monday’s interception certainly doesn’t hurt his chances to make the team.
“Just knowing they took a chance on me, I just want to come out here and show them they didn’t make a mistake,” he said. “That’s all it really boils down to is me wanting to be a great football player.”