Jamarca Sanford has been hoping to get another opportunity to show the Vikings he should start at safety. Well, here it is.
The team got some good news Monday. The right ankle injury suffered by Mistral Raymond at the end of the first quarter of Sunday's victory over San Francisco is significant but not as devastating as first feared. There is no fracture, and no surgery is required. Raymond, who was hurt when he tried to plant his foot and tackle 49ers running back Frank Gore, was diagnosed with a severe bone bruise and what is believed to be a dislocation of the ankle.
How much time Raymond will miss won't be known until he visits a specialist, coach Leslie Frazier said -- but he won't be lost for the season. Until Raymond returns, Sanford will start alongside rookie safety Harrison Smith beginning Sunday at Detroit.
This is the opportunity Sanford has been looking for since a training camp battle ended with Raymond atop the depth chart.
"It hurt. I'd be lying to you if I said it didn't," said Sanford, who started 15 games last season. "But you just have to be strong.''
Sanford said he was shaken by the coaches' decision, and needed the help of friends and teammates Percy Harvin, Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson to get him through it.
"It took me a minute to get over it," Sanford said. "The first three days I was just, I mean, I was just dead. Wondering, looking for an answer. What didn't I do right? What did I do wrong?''
Sanford, who is in his fourth NFL season, is a physical, hard-hitting player, especially against the run. But he was a liability in pass coverage last season.
Sanford said he said he spent his offseason trying to improve in that area. It remains to be seen if that will bear fruit, or if the Vikings defense will suffer.
Sunday, Sanford finished tied for third in tackles with six. He struggled to cover tight end Vernon Davis early but improved as the game went on. Early in the fourth quarter, Sanford stripped the ball from Gore.
"I thought he did a good job when he got in there," Frazier said. "He had the one play down the sidelines with Davis, who presents a lot of problems for anybody. But other than that, he tackled well. He was good on his assignments."
Frazier also praised Sanford for keeping a good attitude -- and staying ready to play -- after getting the news he wouldn't start. For Sanford, that wasn't so easy.
Especially, he said, after spending the summer trying to improve. Usually a weight room fanatic, Sanford said he did more cross-training and flexibility work during the offseason, also working on conditioning. For the first time, he concentrated on his core, stressing flexibility so he could play lower and be more explosive. He slimmed down a little after the coaches told him to prepare do cover tight ends more often. And then, as camp ended, came the news Raymond would start.
"The guys who helped me stay strong were Percy and Jasper and Erin," he said. "They stayed in my ear and kept talking to me. I just kept working, preparing every week like I was going to play, hoping my opportunity would come up, and it came. Now I'm just trying to take advantage of it."