Sanford pushing starters, getting comfortable

Although all 22 starters from the Vikings' 2009 season are expected to return, they may not all keep their jobs. Second-year safety Jamarca Sanford is pushing for a starting job and building off his rookie learning curve.

Jamarca Sanford said he isn't thinking about his opportunities to start, but his head coach says that's a possibility for the Vikings' second-year safety.

Sanford, a 2009 seventh-round draft choice, ended up being the primary backup for Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams last year and even started one game that Johnson sat out with post-concussion symptoms.

"I'm not focused on starting. I'm just really focusing on competing every day and doing the right things to help the team," Sanford said.

"Same mindset as last year. We're all competing. Everybody's getting each other better. It's no different from last year. I just have to come in and compete and help everybody and help the team the best way you can. The more you compete back there, the more we're helping the team out."

The safeties didn't help out the Vikings much when it came to creating turnovers. Johnson and Williams combined for just one interception – by Johnson – during the season. Darren Sharper, who had a combined nine interceptions in three seasons playing safety in the Vikings' style of Tampa-2 defense and had nine interception last year in a more aggressive brand of defense with the Saints, talked occasionally about being limited in the Vikings defense.

Sanford said he, too, had to learn to play within the scheme as a rookie.

Asked what he picked up on last year, he said, "Just learning how to play within the system and the scheme. Don't try to do too much. Just do your job and things will come to you," he said.

"I wouldn't say it takes away your playmaking ability. But as a rookie coming in, you're trying to impress everybody so you're really trying to do too much and you're hurting the defense at the same time. Once you get familiar with the defense, the weakness and the strength of it, the plays are going to come to you, the plays you're supposed to make."

After spending two of the first four games in 2009 on the game-day inactive list, Sanford found his role. He contributed on special teams and got some occasional snaps on defense.

But the early contributions weren't without some trepidation.

"Your first game as a rookie, you're scared and nervous and you don't want to make mistakes. This year I have a different approach, just knowing what to expect and just go out and play football," he said.

He proved enough in his first year that head coach Brad Childress considers Sanford capable of competing for a starting job this year, despite the starters from last year returning.

"It's always a competition," Childress said. "… He obviously has the skill set where he can compete back there for a starting position. He could be a starter on some teams in the National Football League.

"I would put him in the same category as Jasper Brinkley. They got some exposure to playing in there. Jasper started games, Jamarca played a good bit. I just see a lot more communicating going on and there's no downside to that. You're talking in the back end or you're talking to the front seven, I don't see the wheels grinding as much in terms of thinking. I always say, ‘When you don't think we see your God-given athletic ability come out.'"

So far this offseason, Williams and Johnson have been taking most of the reps with the first-team defense – at least what parts of the starting defense are attending practice each day – and Sanford is rotating in.

At least this year, Sanford knows what to expect if he does get the call to start. In fact, by the time he called upon to start one time last year – against Cincinnati on Dec. 13 – he felt much better than earlier in his rookie season.

"I was comfortable that game. I felt good. Playing on special teams gets you prepared, knowing what to do. I was real comfortable," he said. "Earlier in the year I had a couple snaps in the Lions game in the second game of the year. I was real nervous that game. The game I started, I was real comfortable. Madieu told me just go out and don't try to do too much. Just do your job, what you do in practice. When you get out there for the game, it's really no different. It's just football."

This year, he hopes to be able to play more football – on defense.

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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