EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is getting closer to determining his starting safeties and it could be a young look in the middle of the secondary.
Rookie Harrison Smith earned his first start in Friday’s second preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. Second-year player Mistral Raymond started alongside Smith, and the two had a strong game together in Minnesota’s 36-14 win as the first-team defense held Buffalo to just six yards in the first quarter.
Raymond and Smith will get the chance to continue working together to see if they can develop some cohesiveness in a secondary that struggled badly last season.
“That’s the approach we’re going to take,” Frazier said of starting Raymond with Smith again this week. “I think (Raymond) did a good job in that ball game on Friday night and we want to look at that tandem again and see how they progress. We’ll still work Jamarca (Sanford) in there but as we speak, just go with those two to begin with.”
Smith was drafted No. 29 overall this year and was expected to eventually force his way into the starting lineup. After a strong training camp, he’s started last week and will likely remain there. Raymond and Sanford started training camp as the starters and the two are likely fighting for a starting spot next to Smith.
Raymond and Sanford were the starters at the end of last season. Sanford earned his first full-time starting spot last season and started all 15 games he played. He was third on the team and first among defensive backs with 118 tackles. Raymond, a sixth-round draft pick last year, was pressed into action due to injuries and started the final five games of the season and had 36 tackles. He also had an interception against Washington, breaking Minnesota’s streak of nine games without an interception.
Raymond is still developing as a safety after making the transition from cornerback in college. In the first preseason game he took a bad angle on a run by San Francisco running back Brandon Jacobs, which ended in a 23-yard run.
But Raymond had showed improvement Friday, finishing with a team-high four tackles, including one tackle for loss when he shot in and stopped Bills back Fred Jackson for a 2-yard loss.
“Like a lot of our guys who are going to play for us this year, he’s a young guy who has limited starting experience in this league,” Frazier said of Raymond. “So, there’s going to be some mistakes and you hope that he’ll learn quickly enough not to repeat those mistakes. He has the athletic ability, he’s smart, he has to get a little bit stronger, and he has gotten stronger over the offseason. But he’s a guy who we think has big upside, but we have to keep putting him out there in situations and see how well he can handle it and how well he can improve. He did some real good things on Friday night.”
Cook and Rudolph have concussion symptoms: Frazier said cornerback Chris Cook and tight end Kyle Rudolph are still being evaluated with concussion symptoms after they came out of Friday’s game.
Cook and Rudolph were at practice Sunday, but weren’t participating.
“Chris Cook and Kyle are both still under observation,” Frazier said. “They’re still being evaluated with the concussion symptoms. We’ll learn more about them tomorrow.”
Frazier wasn’t sure when Cook and Rudolph would return to practice or if they would play Friday. The Vikings could hold the two starters out for the preseason to be cautious. Frazier said they hadn’t failed any concussion testing.
“No, up to this point, everything has gone smoothly,” Frazier said. “And whatever they have to get done tomorrow, after that we’ll know exactly where things are going. But so far, everything’s been positive.”
Frazier said rookie safety Robert Blanton could play his first game this week. Blanton has returned to practice after missing two weeks with a hamstring strain.
Frazier was hopeful tight end Carlson, sidelined since July 31 with a strained medial collateral ligament, could return this week.
“John Carlson is still making progress,” Frazier said. “We’re going to see how he does day-to-day and make a determination on whether or not we want to try and get him in this ballgame or not.”
Defensive tackle Letroy Guion missed a week of practice with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament, but Frazier said he could return this week as well. Offensive tackle DeMarcus Love has been practicing and Frazier said he could make possible play Friday.
“Guion should be able to practice this week and we’ll make a determination about whether we want to play him in this game or not,” Frazier said. “Same with DeMarcus Love, he’ll have a chance to get back in. He’s made tremendous imrpovements. So, we’ll have to make a determination at the end of the week whether we want to play him.”
Jordan Todman has been limited in practice with a sprained ankle, but Frazier said he’s showing improvement.
Offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz (sports hernia surgery), linebacker Solomon Elimiminian (hamstring strain) and receiver Kamar Jorden (broken hand) also sat out Sunday’s practice.
Fullback Matt Asiata was gone from practice and Frazier said he was out for personal reasons.