Notebook: Demoted Jamarca Sanford targeting Pro Bowl on special teams
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The night before last week's opener against Jacksonville, Jamarca Sanford looked around the special teams meeting room and counted only six players who were a part of the Minnesota Vikings' playoff run after the 2009 season.
Things change quickly in the NFL, especially for special teamers. Gone are coverage standouts such as Heath Farwell (released before last season), Kenny Onatolu (non-tendered as a restricted free agent in February) and Eric Frampton (released last month).
In their place: a new core group including Larry Dean, Andrew Sendejo, Christian Ballard, Everson Griffen, Tyrone McKenzie and Rhett Ellison, with Sanford as their spirited leader.
"It reminds me of the guys from 2009," Sanford said on Friday. "We had Kenny and Heath and all them, guys that took pride to playing special teams. A lot of times, you get a lot of guys that really go through the motions on special teams, but these guys here, they really want to be the best. That's how we're approaching it every week."
Coordinator Mike Priefer's unit got off to a positive start in a 26-23 victory over the Jaguars. Matt Kalil blocked an extra point, Matt Asiata had a key 22-yard kickoff return late in regulation, Blair Walsh hit all four of his field-goal attempts and Jacksonville's return game never got going.
Sanford nearly came up with a key takeaway, too, getting to the spot so quickly in punt coverage Maurice Jones-Drew put the ball on the ground. Plays like that are what the Vikings need from Sanford, who is back to being a full-time special teamer after starting 15 games at safety last season.
"He's handled everything better than anybody could have expected, because I know there is going to be some disappointment in not starting on defense," Priefer said. "The fact that he went out and played as hard as he did, that didn't surprise me at all, because that's just the type of pro he is."
Sanford admits he was "highly disappointed" to learn Mistral Raymond had beat him out for the job. He had set high goals for himself in this, the last of the four-year rookie contract that included a $49,275 bonus he signed as a seventh-round draft pick (231st overall) out of Mississippi in 2009.
"But in life, things happen," Sanford said. "They don't always go your way. So, back to special teams and just going out and make plays on special teams and just show when I'm on the field, no matter where I'm at, I'm out here just doing whatever it takes to help the team."
Sanford's new goals include being the NFC's Pro Bowl selection on special teams -- something he hadn't pondered in the past because he was focused on making his mark on defense.
He knows it'll take a lot of production to accomplish that, though.
"You have to force fumbles," Sanford said. "Splash plays -- you've just got to make plays all over the field. Continue to keep working, week in and week out."
Bigger role for Carlson?
Tight end John Carlson expects to play this week without a knee brace after a week of practice coach Leslie Frazier termed "very, very good."
Carlson, who missed most of training camp and the entire preseason because of a sprained right knee, played only 18 snaps against Jacksonville and the only ball thrown his way fell incomplete.
"I was wearing that knee brace, and the knee brace helped a lot," Carlson said. "It provided a lot of stability. I didn't have any concerns about the stability of the knee.
"Was I flying around at 100 percent? No, probably not. But I've said it before -- no one is 100 percent at this point."
Carlson added he feels "a lot better" than a week ago, and Frazier indicated he could play a larger role on Sunday against Indianapolis -- perhaps taking some snaps off Kyle Rudolph, who played all 59 against the Jaguars.
"(He) was more coming off the injury and yeah, you have to factor in all of the missed reps as well, but the injury definitely played a factor," Frazier said. "He's gone through an entire week this week and he looks very, very good.
"We want to get him more involved this week. That will be the goal and we'll see how the game goes, but we feel like he is past the injury point. We were concerned going into last week's ballgame, but no concerns going into this ball game."
Griffen, Guion fined
Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen was fined $15,750 for roughing the passer on a play that didn't draw a flag on Sunday, according to an NFL spokesman.
Griffen was fined for making helmet-to-helmet contact with Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert on the play, which happened on the opening drive of the third quarter. Gabbert was visibly angry after the play, but Griffen wasn't penalized.
Nose tackle Letroy Guiondid draw a flag for an unnecessary roughness penalty when he hit Gabbert in the fourth quarter. Guion was fined $7,875 for "unnecessarily striking an opponent late," the NFL spokesman said.
• Frazier said WR Jarius Wright (ankle) isn't behind right now despite missing the Vikings' opener. "He's practiced all of this week so he's up on the things that we're doing and what we're asking the receivers to do, Frazier said. "Mentally, no, he wouldn't be behind." Wright also has the potential to return punts for the Vikings. He is listed as questionable for Sunday.
• The Vikings played loud crowd noise during practice this week to try to give players an idea of what they will experience Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. "Our players handled it pretty good in practice," Frazier said. "How we'll do in the game when the pressure is a little bit different, you hope that we'll handle it. We've tried to prepare them for that but we have to be able to handle it when we get into live situations."