Safety Jamarca Sanford says he isn't looking at his extended training camp work as an opportunity to start, but that's exactly what could happen by the time the regular season opens in exactly one month in New Orleans.
Sanford, the 2009 seventh-round draft pick out of Ole Miss, has been splitting reps with Tyrell Johnson at strong safety on an almost 50-50 basis.
"They just said, ‘You're going to have a roll in and out. I'd go with the ones sometimes and Tyrell would go with the twos sometimes. We're rolling everybody in, getting everybody opportunities to show their talent," Sanford said. "It swaps every day. So far it's just been me and Tyrell. He just goes with the ones. The next day it might be me. We just roll back and forth."
It seems to have become an even more frequent swapping of the starting role as camp as progressed, with one of the two working with the first team during seven-on-seven work and the other during full-team work. The constant so far has been veteran Madieu Williams, but it's clear that Sanford at least has a chance unseat Johnson as a starter.
"I don't look at it like that. I just look at it when I'm in, keep making plays," Sanford said. "Me and Tyrell, we're doing a good job and he doesn't look at it that way either. All of us, the more we're competing, we're making the team better. We're not going to look at it (as) who is going to continue to start. We're just going to focus on coming out here and getting better every day and making each other better and making it competitive back there."
While Johnson got the majority of playing time last year – playing in close to 88 percent of the team's defensive snaps – Sanford did have the opportunity to start one game and become the fifth and final member of the 2009 rookie class to start a game. That Dec. 13 start against Cincinnati made him the first rookie safety to start a game for the Vikings since 2002.
It also gave him a taste of NFL action, an experience that helped him prepare this offseason.
"It's night and day different because you know what to expect now and you know the defense. So being in the defense and playing one year, I got some P.T. (playing time) last year during game time and it helped me out major. It's slowed down a lot for me," he said. "I know what I can do and what I can't do. It helped me out a lot. Last year as a rookie, you're sitting there just trying to find your way. This year you're more comfortable and you know the defense."
It's showing up in training camp too. Sanford is probably the more aggressive of the two. At times, that can backfire, but so far there hasn't been any obvious instances of his aggressiveness costing the defense a big play.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier says Johnson is still the starter until Sanford beats him out, if that ever does happen.
"Tyrell is still our starter but we wanted competition at the position. All our guys know that. There is always competition at every position," Frazier said. "In order for Jamarca to have a chance to beat him, he needs to have a chance to work with the ones, no slight against Tyrell. We want to make sure we have competitiveness at the safety position."
For the record, Johnson is listed as the starting safety on the depth chart the team issued on Tuesday.
Sanford said he was just told to continue doing what he had been doing and things would play themselves out. After reviewing film of himself, Sanford had a self-evaluation: He was playing aggressive, but he could improve his ball skills.
"I didn't really hold back and there wasn't a lot of guessing. Just go with it, go full speed and play all-out," he said. "… Really breaking on balls, catching all the balls and coming out of breaks a lot better. I've been doing a good job of that. Working on that pretty good in the offseason. Just getting my hands up for sure. When I have an opportunity to make a play on the ball, make a play on it."
Seeing as how the Vikings' safeties last year had only interception, if he can come down with some preseason picks he might just have a chance to be a starter, even if he's not concentrating on that possibility right now.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.