Jamarca Sanford confirms Mistral Raymond in line to start at safety
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Four days from Sunday's season opener against Jacksonville, the Minnesota Vikings still aren't revealing their decisions at two key spots in the secondary, if they've made decisions at all.
Mistral Raymond has returned from low-back spasms and is the favorite to start over Jamarca Sanford at safety, while Josh Robinson is back from his concussion and seems like the favorite to be the third cornerback in the nickel package.
But coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday the team wants to see how each player comes back from the injuries they suffered in the third preseason game on Aug. 24 against San Diego before finalizing anything.
Sanford struggled in his 15 starts last season and didn't show much sign of improvement in the preseason. Raymond, a sixth-round draft pick in 2011 out of South Florida, had one notable lapse in the Aug. 10 exhibition opener at San Francisco but was strong a week later against Buffalo.
"We want to see Mistral go through some things with all the time that he missed towards the end," Frazier said. "I just talked with Jamarca a few minutes ago just about that, just telling just to be patient, let us take a look at some things these next couple days and then we'll make a decision as the week goes on. But we have confidence in the both of them and we'll make the right decision."
Sanford, a seventh-round pick in 2009, admitted it isn't easy to lose the job.
"Yeah, it's frustrating but that's part of the game," Sanford said. "I just have to go, play my role on the team. ... You never know how it will unfold. Last year we had a lot of injuries so you just have to stay focused and prepare like a starter. You never know when your number (will be called).
"Anybody can go down for a play and the next thing you know I'm in there for the whole game. So I just have to prepare like a starter. I'd be lying to you if I said it was easy but, like I said, coming from (being) a starter and then to start this year (out of that role), it hurts but things happen so I work hard, I know I gave it my all. So that's all I can do and just look forward to going out and making plays on special teams this week."
Sanford said it's his understanding that if Raymond is ready to start he will get that assignment.
The Vikings are expected to start first-round pick Harrison Smith at one safety spot. Frazier previously has indicated Raymond was the favorite at the other, but that was before the back gave out in warm-ups before the San Diego game.
"First of all, you want to make sure that there are no complications from the time that (Raymond) missed, with the injury that he had," Frazier said. "And then we want to see him move around a little bit, make some plays in practice and just show us that he's back into it a little bit."
Robinson, the rookie third-round draft pick from Central Florida, became the favorite as the No. 3 corner when the Vikings released veteran Chris Carr on Friday. But he has missed significant time, first with the hamstring injury and then the concussion.
Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield are expected to start on Sunday, with Winfield moving inside in the nickel. The Vikings finalized a trade with Arizona on Saturday for another outside cornerback, A.J. Jefferson, but he'll have to pick up the defense quickly to be active for Sunday's game.
"We'll get a better feel for A.J. as the week goes on," Frazier said. "Josh is right in the mix for that third corner position. We'll see how he progresses during the course of the week, coming off the concussion. But he's definitely in the mix."
Another cornerback, Marcus Sherels, returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday for the first time since spraining an ankle against San Diego.
Three backups -- linebacker Marvin Mitchell, safety Andrew Sendejo and receiver Jarius Wright -- continued to sit out with their respective ankle injuries. Frazier said this week that Mitchell is in the most danger of missing Sunday's game.
Judd Zulgad contributed