Safety Andrew Sendejo becoming a mainstay for Vikings' special teams
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MANKATO, Minn. -- You might call Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo a late bloomer.
After going undrafted in 2010, due in part to a high ankle sprain that required surgery and ended his senior season at Rice prematurely, Sendejo signed on as a street free agent with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League (which has since disbanded over legal issues).
Sendejo caught a break when he signed onto the Dallas Cowboys practice squad that fall and was promoted to the active roster five days later. He appeared in two games, but was not brought back the following season.
Sendejo then signed to the New York Jets, was let go, then signed to their practice squad and was ultimately waived, all in September 2011.
That could possibly explain the drive that Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer loves so much about Sendejo -- who was signed to the team in November 2011 and is now a core member of the Vikings special teams units.
"[Sendejo's] approach to the game, his incredible work ethic and he is a great study," Priefer said earlier this month. "He is great in the weight room, and he runs hard. He practices hard, and he prepares hard. He is very coachable, tough, smart, and fast."
Sendejo appeared in a total of five NFL games before last season, when he made the Vikings' 53-man roster by beating out veteran safety Eric Frampton in training camp.
Sendejo committed a few inexperience-driven mistakes last season, including a block in the back at Green Bay, but otherwise made the most of his chances -- appearing in 14 games and finishing with 13 tackles (11 solo), most on coverage units.
The Vikings currently start second-year safety Harrison Smith and fifth-year safety Jamarca Sanford, who have both proven their worth in the NFL. Right now, Sendejo said he's simply content with where he's at.
"Obviously every wants to start, but you need to be realistic when you have vets that are already established," Sendejo said. "Luckily for me I played a lot of special teams in college and all the way back to high school, it's always been a big part of the programs I've been with. You have to know your role."
Priefer fears Sendejo's role could be changing.
"There have been a lot of guys who have done it through the years in this league that have carved out a niche as a special teamer," Priefer said. "But I wouldn't put it past Drew to be a starting safety someday whether it is this day, the next day, or a year after. There are several guys that play really good special teams for us that I am concerned about losing."
A lot bulkier when he came out of college, Sendejo said he had to drop about 15 pounds to keep up with the speed of the NFL game. Sendejo said he's now around 212 pounds with five percent body fat.
Sendejo, who is on every special teams unit except for field goal and field goal block, appeared to be taking second-team reps at safety alongside Mistral Raymond during Monday's practice.
But just like his tenuous climb to the NFL -- Sendejo is not letting a starting job distract him from what he's already earned.
"I really don't get caught up in what string," Sendejo said. "I just try to be consistent on a day-to-day basis and make plays I'm supposed to make to prove to the coaches they can trust me."