Veteran safety Jamarca Sanford looking to be a leader in the secondary
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings' safety Jamarca Sanford's defined arms bulge out of his purple undershirt, perpetrators of the team-high four forced fumbles last season and evidence of his work ethic to ensure he doesn't lose his starting job again.
After starting in 2011, Sanford was supplanted by safety Mistral Raymond in training camp and didn't resurface until Raymond dislocated his ankle in Week 3.
"It's just taking advantage of opportunities," Sanford said. "I had a taste of success last year and I just want more."
A seventh-round draft pick in 2009, Sanford evolved into a special teams ace -- a wrecking ball mentality that has led him to be one of the better run-stoppers in the Vikings' secondary.
With the loss of cornerback Antoine Winfield this offseason, Sanford is not only one of the most vocal guys in the Vikings' secondary, but now the oldest as he turns 28 in August.
"I'm a big smack-talker, but you need to lead by example also," Sanford said. "That's why I put the work into the offseason that I did. I know what type of player I am, I know I like to talk smack. You can't be talking smack if you know you're the weakest link in the defense."
Even though the Vikings have had three different starting safeties in the past three years, Sanford has defensive coordinator Alan Williams' confidence that he will be the leader this secondary needs in place of Winfield.
The Vikings showed their confidence in Sanford as well when they signed him to a two-year, $5 million contract in the offseason.
"Jamarca is just taking over from what he did for us last year and he is leading us this year," Williams said. "He likes to talk now. The one thing about Jamarca is he backs it up on the football field."
Safety Harrison Smith led the Vikings as a rookie with three interceptions last season and has a similar game to Sanford -- both downhill players who like to stop the run and play inside the box.
"That's what our defense is all about," Williams said. "We don't have a free safety, strong safety, we have two good football players. They're both smart. Harrison has picked up the system a lot faster than we expected."
Sanford struggled in coverage last year, taking a 56-yard pass interference penalty at Detroit and was benched for dropping an easy interception against Chicago.
Williams said Sanford's ability in coverage is what fuels his confidence in the fifth-year safety.
"[Sanford] has always been a fireplug in stopping the run, but he's elevated his game in the passing game and that's good to see," Williams said. "He's becoming a complete football player and one of the better safeties in the league."