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Updated: August 28th, 2010 11:40pm
In battle for starting strong safety, Tyrell Johnson can likely rest easy

In battle for starting strong safety, Tyrell Johnson can likely rest easy

by Phil Mackey
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Earlier in the week, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier characterized the Minnesota Vikings' strong safety battle as "nip and tuck" between Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson, adding, "hopefully, after this ballgame, we'll come to a conclusion."

If the battle wasn't already decided prior to Saturday night, it may have sorted itself out by default in the 24-13 preseason win over the Seattle Seahawks.

As expected, Johnson started with the first team defense alongside free safety Madieu Williams. Johnson remained in the game for three low-key, three-and-out series before -- perhaps surprisingly -- giving way to Husain Abdullah instead of Sanford.

Two plays in, Abdullah bit on a slant route over the middle while Seahawks wide receiver Deion Branch caught a 42-yard pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck over the top of cornerback Antoine Winfield, who looked like he was expecting safety help over the top.

Then, on Seattle's first play of the second half, Hasselbeck connected with Mike Williams -- yes, that Mike Williams -- on another 42-yarder down to the Vikings 31-yardline, splitting Abdullah and Williams. Abdullah had a chance to make the tackle at the Minnesota 45-yardline, but missed.

Sanford, who started over Johnson against San Francisco last week, entered the game at strong safety with the second team defense on the next series, bumping Abdullah -- who later left the game under his own power in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg cramp -- to free safety.

Johnson later re-entered the game in the fourth quarter and nearly intercepted an errant pass off the wing of Charlie Whitehurst. He also delivered a big hit to wide receiver Ruvell Martin.

So, to sort this battle out, Sanford didn't enter the game until the middle of the third quarter, and all of his reps came with the second-team defense. Abdullah, who was a longshot at best for the starting job, played three series with the first-team defense, but was partially responsible for two 42-yard pass plays.

It would seem as if Johnson can rest easy, although he wasn't ready to concede anything after the game.

"I honestly don't know," Johnson said. "I can't even speak on that. All I know is I went out there and did the best I could do and handled my job, and at the end of the day that's all I can do."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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