MANKATO — Last season, Jamarca Sanford admits that he was just happy to be a starting safety for the Vikings, and he knows that if he doesn’t do his job better this season, somebody else will take his place.
“This year, it’s about learning from my mistakes and being better than last year,” Sanford said.
Sanford made 118 tackles last season with three games of 10 or more, and he led the team with two interceptions.
But too often, Sanford would be the player trying to catch up to an open receiver in space.
So he’s taken more time in the offseason to learn the defense, work on better angles to the ball and understand game situations, which should lead to a more consistent performance.
“Football IQ stuff,” he said.
Last season, the Vikings had little choice but to play Sanford, with limited depth at that position. On draft day, the Vikings picked Harrison Smith in the first round and Robert Blanton in the fifth, and either one could emerge as a threat to Sanford’s playing time.
“This is the NFL, and there’s always going to be competition,” Sanford said. “NFL teams are always looking to replace you. Look at (teammate) Antoine Winfield. They’re always bringing in guys who could replace him, and he’s still standing. It’s more about what you do; you are your own competition.”
Sanford earned starting time by excelling on specials teams, where his speed, strength and compact body are perfect traits. He enjoys that phase of the game as much as he enjoys defense, knowing you have to do your best every time you step on the field.
“I approach every year as I just want to make the 53-man roster,” he said. “Defense, special teams ... it doesn’t matter. I don’t try to cut corners. I just want to put my best foot forward to help the team in any way I can.”
Special teams coach Mike Priefer appreciates Sanford’s attitude.
“He’s almost as crazy as I am,’ Priefer said. “You have to have a screw loose to play special teams.”
Sanford is feeling much more comfortable in his fourth training camp with the Vikings. A seventh-round pick in 2009, his attitude is infectious as he tries to be a leader.
“I like to joke and have some fun,” he said. “It’s good to get paid, but I love the game, and that’s my comfort zone. I can be myself, and nobody thinks I’m crazy. I like to have a smile on my face, and I like to put a smile on other people’s faces.”