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Updated: August 10th, 2011 6:08pm
Notebook: Mistral Raymond gets starter reps; help wanted at cornerback

Notebook: Mistral Raymond gets starter reps; help wanted at cornerback

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings' competition at safety added an unexpected wrinkle on Wednesday morning, when rookie sixth-round draft pick Mistral Raymond lined up with the first-team defense and Tyrell Johnson practiced with the second string.

Starting safety Husain Abdullah was absent. Johnson had missed the past two days with a hamstring injury. And it seems unlikely Raymond -- a onetime walk-on at South Florida who started only 15 games in three seasons with the Bulls -- will push Johnson and Jamarca Sanford for the starting job alongside Abdullah.

Still, giving Raymond a look on defense as well as on the No. 1 punt team indicates the Vikings at least are intrigued to find out if he can help them somewhere as a rookie.

"The preseason will kind of let things play out," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We're going to give (Raymond) every opportunity to show us what he's capable of doing and just see where it falls."

A native of Palmetto, Fla., Raymond spent two years at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa before transferring to be closer to his family, which has endured a series of well-documented tragedies. He didn't become a full-time starter until last season, when he was named to the all-Big East second team, and wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine.

"Probably a better zone corner than he is a man-to-man," said the personnel director for an AFC team that considered drafting Raymond as a cornerback.

"Didn't run real fast (4.64 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his campus workout). But when you're playing in a zone scheme, it's probably more fitting and suiting for his skillset."

The Vikings were intrigued by Raymond as a cornerback, too, given a frame (6-foot-1, 194 pounds) and build reminiscent of another Florida native, St. Louis Rams veteran Al Harris -- one of Raymond's favorite corners to watch growing up.

But Frazier wanted to try Raymond at free safety first, and the rookie has made a positive impression. Even when working with the second team, he regularly is seen sticking his head into the starters' huddle to soak up whatever he can.

"It's necessary," Raymond said. "You don't want to miss out on any little coaching point, any little tip you can get to help you out here. Anytime I could get some knowledge, I'm searching for it."

He'll need it if he makes the team. The Vikings value players such as Abdullah, an undrafted free agent in 2008 who spent two years as a multi-position backup and special-teams player before beating out Johnson and Sanford in camp a year ago.

"It's something I look forward to," Raymond said of training at multiple spots. "It's something I'm embracing. Whatever opportunity, whatever role they give me, I'm embracing it."

Help wanted

Frazier confirmed a report the Vikings plan to work out former Denver and New England cornerback Tony Carter, who was released last month.

The Vikings have been down a man at that spot since undrafted rookie Marcell Gipson left the team on Friday following his grandmother's death and was placed on waivers.

"Yeah, we are going to try and work out a couple of guys and get some more legs in here and just have another guy to compete," Frazier said. "We'll see how it plays out."

Carter, 25, has played in four games over two seasons since going undrafted out of Florida State in 2009.

Cameo coming

Quarterback Donovan McNabb and the starting offense probably won't play more than a series or two in Saturday's preseason opener at Tennessee.

"We'll get them accustomed to the offense a little bit," Frazier said. "A few plays and get them out and progress as the preseason goes on."

Quarterback Joe Webb will run the second-team offense on Saturday, while rookie Christian Ponder will run the third string.

"When we play Seattle (a week later), it may be reversed," Frazier said. "We're going to give them every opportunity to compete for that No. 2 spot and just see where it ends up at."

Health watch

Johnson had no apparent issues with his injured hamstring during the morning practice and, barring a setback, is expected to play on Saturday.

"He did good from what I saw," Frazier said. "He was sprinting. He was opening up."

Backup safety Simeon Castille">Simeon Castille (hamstring) also returned to practice. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) sat out for a second straight day and is expected to sit out Saturday.

Left tackle Charlie Johnson (hip) dropped out of practice briefly. Left guard Steve Hutchinson (pectoral/shoulder) also sat out at least one drill, but Frazier indicated that was just a precaution.

"We'll monitor where he is," Frazier said. "He's doing fine, but still you want to be smart."

Backup linebacker Kenny Onatolu (foot) and right guard Anthony Herrera (knee/triceps), who is on the camp/physically unable to perform list, remained sidelined.

Quick hits

• Abdullah was excused from practice to attend President Barack Obama's annual Iftar dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the White House. He's expected to rejoin the Vikings on Thursday night, Frazier said.

• Frazier and DT Kevin Williams said they still haven't heard whether the NFL will enforce Williams' long-delayed "StarCaps" suspension the first four games of the season. The delay likely is related to the new, collectively-bargained policy on banned substances that was finalized on Thursday. An NFL spokesman said on Tuesday there was nothing to report.

• Frazier continued to praise the defensive line's two returning starters, Williams and RE Jared Allen, for the example they've set the first week of camp after subpar 2010 seasons by their Pro Bowl standards. "There's a renewed attitude amongst the two of them, and it's good for our team," Frazier said.

• Rookie WR Stephen Burton provided one of the strangest moments of camp when he swatted away a Hail Mary pass in the end zone during the "last play" drill. Several teammates and receivers coach George Stewart were incredulous as they asked Burton what he was doing on the sideline, and Frazier laughed about it during his media conference. "You don't usually see that," Frazier said, "so we'll definitely have something to coach off the tape with."

• RT Phil Loadholt and OL Chris DeGeare went through extra conditioning work for the second straight day during the team's afternoon walkthrough. Neither has missed any time.

Jimmy Kleinsasser and Jeff Dugan will be the top two tight ends on Saturday, Frazier said, with rookie Kyle Rudolph getting "enough reps where we'll be able to evaluate him."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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