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Updated: August 12th, 2012 5:34pm
Notebook: Vikings might start rookie safety Harrison Smith on Friday

Notebook: Vikings might start rookie safety Harrison Smith on Friday

by Judd Zulgad
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford continued to work as the Minnesota Vikings' first-team safeties during Sunday's walkthrough practices.

But coach Leslie Frazier indicated rookie Harrison Smith could start in place of one of those players in Friday's second preseason game against Buffalo at the Metrodome.

The Vikings made a draft-day trade with Baltimore in April to get back into the first round so they could take Smith out of Notre Dame with the 29th overall pick. The assumption since then has been that Smith would be a starter for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against Jacksonville.

The majority of Smith's work in camp to date has come with the second team. But he has increasingly gotten reps with the starters, and Raymond and Sanford didn't exactly impress in the Vikings' 17-6 exhibition loss to San Francisco on Friday.

"One of the things when we went back and looked at the tape," Frazier said, "and we kind of felt this way going in and Harrison was really making a push, he's going to get a chance and he got a chance to work in that first group on Friday night as well. He just didn't start the game.

"It will be the same way this week, although we're going to do some things a little bit different with the starting rotation on Friday night. He's done enough now where we feel confident that he could go out there in a starter's role, and then we want to see how he performs in that role."

Asked if that means Smith could start Friday, Frazier said: "He very well could. He did some good things when he was in there on Friday night."

Smith made one play of note against the 49ers, stopping an end around to Keiland Williams for a 1-yard loss. The players working ahead of him each had at least one big misplay to forget.

Raymond took a bad angle on Brandon Jacobs' 23-yard run on a second-and-1 play that highlighted the opening 12-play, 89-yard drive. On the next drive, Sanford lost vision and broke the wrong way on Colin Kaepernick's 78-yard touchdown run.

"You've got to keep putting him in situations and giving him a chance to make plays or show you whether they can make those plays," Frazier said, when asked about the play involving Raymond.

"He's going to get more opportunities like all our guys will that are fighting for jobs. You don't want to make a declaration at this point that he can't do it. We've got some more opportunities ahead, so he'll get more opportunities and so will the other guys to have a chance to make those plays."

Not there yet

Friday's game was middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley's first since undergoing season-ending hip surgery last August, and he showed plenty of rust.

Brinkley, who also struggled with a groin injury during the offseason, appeared tentative at times during his two series. He was sealed off on Rock Cartwright's 19-yard run, got all turned around on a screen pass to Kendall Hunter that went for 9 and was credited with one assisted tackle.

"He wasn't quite as sharp as we'd like for him to be and it was not all the way unexpected," Frazier said, "just because of the time lost and it's hard to simulate game speed, even though this is preseason and we all know it's going to ramp up another gear when we get to Sept. 9.

"But he needed that on Friday night. He needs it again this coming Friday, because he hasn't been in those game situations in quite a while."

Brinkley said he was encouraged after getting on the field.

"I was moving around good," he said. "I was just so happy to get past that point. ... I think it was very important -- at least for the coaches and also for me -- just to be able to show them that I can still run and go play ball. Very important."

Brinkley acknowledged it's important for him to get "muscle memory back" when it comes to playing the defense. The best news for Brinkley was he came out of the game with his hip and groin feeling fine. He said improvement will come with time.

"Practice speed and game speed are two different speeds," he said. "I definitely found that out the other day. The more reps, the better you get at it."

Nothing like reps

The 49ers rushed for 260 yards on 42 carries Friday -- a figure that did not sit well with the Vikings' coaching staff.

But Frazier said he feels the defensive miscues under new coordinator Alan Williams can and will be corrected.

"I think they're correctable, and some of it will be playing Kevin (Williams) and Jared (Allen) and some of those guys along the way," he said, referring to two of the three veteran starters who were given the night off.

"But getting Jasper back into the swing of things -- that's going to be a process. He'll have to continue to get work. We'll give him more opportunities again this week.

"Unfortunately, we won't have Letroy (Guion, the nose tackle who is expected to miss a week because of a knee injury) to get more reps, but Fred Evans, Christian Ballard -- getting those guys more opportunities should help us to be able to do a little bit better job in run situations. But we've just got to keep putting them in situations."

Learning process

Joe Webb replaced Christian Ponder at quarterback on Friday and completed only 4 of 11 passes for 20 yards in portions of the second and third quarters. He was sacked twice, ran twice for 9 yards and posted a 44.9 passer rating.

Frazier refused to criticize Webb's performance and voiced his confidence in the third-year player.

"He was in a tough situation at times with some of the guys that were in the game when he was in there," Frazier said. "But we have a lot of confidence in Joe, and he'll have another opportunity this week against Buffalo to get some extended snaps. I'm looking forward to him just continuing to move forward and play a little bit better. I think he will and we've got to do some things to help him as well."

The Vikings want to see Webb develop as a quarterback but also are weighing that with the fact he's an athletically gifted talent who can add a special dimension to the offense.

"Part of his maturation will be being able to show that he can do some things in the pocket," Frazier said. "But we don't want to handcuff Joe either, we have some things that when the time comes we can explore his many capabilities on the edge and put pressure on defenses, as we've all seen.

"We're not going to limit him to just being a drop-back guy. That's something we want him to improve on but we also want to utilize his strengths, being able to get him on the perimeter when things break down and make plays."

Webb drew raves last season for two performances in December when he replaced Christian Ponder at quarterback. He led a rally that fell short at Detroit, running for 109 yards, including a 65-yard scoring dash.

He came in for an injured Ponder early in the third quarter of a game against Washington and led four scoring drives, including running for a 65-yard touchdown.

Health watch

DeMarcus Love was back in helmet and shells on Sunday for the first time since suffering a pectoral injury on July 28, the second day of camp.

Love worked with the second team at left tackle during the afternoon practice, which was converted to an hour-long walkthrough because of rain. It was unclear whether he would have participated in a practice with contact.

Rookie safety Robert Blanton, who hasn't practiced since July 30 because of a hamstring injury, had a helmet on Sunday and appeared set to do limited work.

Not practicing were: Guion (knee), tight end John Carlson (knee), halfback Jordan Todman (ankle), wide receiver Kamar Jorden (hand), end Jeff Charleston (ankle) and guard Geoff Schwartz, who has rejoined the team after undergoing sports hernia surgery last week.

Doing their best

So, what did Frazier think of the job done by the replacement officials on Friday?

"Come on, man," he said with a laugh. "I cannot talk about the replacement officials. Next question."

The NFL locked out the 112 officials who belong to the NFL Referees Association in early June after negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement broke down.

The league has hired officials from the Arena League and NCAA Division I, II and III conferences to work its preseason games and recently sent a memo to teams instructing them how to respond to questions about the replacement.

Asked a follow up later on the same subject, Frazier said: "The officials did the best job they could in that game. They did the best they could do."

Tom Pelissero contributed.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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