For the first six weeks of his rookie season, safety Mistral Raymond was a spectator.
The Minnesota Vikings deactivated their sixth-round pick out of South Florida until Week 7, when Raymond made his debut on special teams.
Injuries eventually ravaged the safety position, and Raymond got his shot, starting the last five games and snaring his first career interception on Dec. 24 at Washington to snap a lengthy, team-wide drought.
Now he's in a competition to be a full-time starter at a position as unsettled as any on the Vikings roster. He's been working alongside Jamarca Sanford with the first team during organized team activity practices, although it's probably only a matter of time before first-round draft pick Harrison Smith moves up the depth chart.
After Wednesday's practice, Raymond spoke with 1500ESPN.com about his development, his evaluation of his rookie season and his approach to the competition.
A lot of people say the most important offseason in any player's career is the one right after his rookie season. How has it gone for you?
I trained a lot different. Coming into my rookie year, it was all about the combine training and the pro day training and all that. I had a full offseason just to focus on technique and getting in the weight room and getting stronger and just watching and learning from some of the veteran guys from my team and that I know around the league on how to train and what to do during the offseason. It's been good for me, man. I feel good going into the season, and hopefully, just keep it rolling.
That is a weird deal going into the draft, where you're running 40s every day and focusing on timing well, rather than technique.
Yeah, and mentally, going in, that stuff is important, but you want to get the technique stuff down when you're preparing for that stuff. It was good for me to actually be able to go out and focus on the things that I need to improve on and areas on the field and just learn from the guys, man. Just to take what they're giving me and run with it.
It looks like you put on a little muscle.
Yeah, I think I did. I did actually put on a few pounds. Just trying to make myself a better all-around football player.
You had some positive stretches once you got into the lineup last year, but you dropped out multiple times with cramps. Your hydration was an issue. Is that something you've focused on?
Absolutely. (Head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman and his staff did a great job of just staying on top of me about that stuff. After awhile, you get tired of hearing them complain to you. So, just being a professional, you know how to take care of that stuff. That won't be an issue for me. Hopefully, I'll just keep doing the things I'm doing and I'll be fine.
Did you take IVs in college?
I did, a few games. There were a few incidents where I'd take the IVs. Down there in that Florida heat, it's a lot different, man. So, I think my body kind of became accustomed to taking it. Here, we want to get away from that.
They just want you to chug Gatorade all day.
Yeah, just chug Gatorade and get all those electrolytes and water. That stuff makes a big difference.
How do you evaluate your performance in those five starts you had last year?
It was a process, just getting in and sitting behind those guys for the first six weeks of the season, not dressing and watching them. I think (former assistant backs coach Matt) Sheldon did a great job of keeping me prepared when I wasn't on the field. So, once I got on the field, it was just all about catching up to the game speed. The game speed is just something you can't simulate in practice. You just can't do it, no matter how you try. But once I got caught up to the game speed and learned the defense and started to really understand the defense, I think I did some good things and hopefully, I can improve on those areas and eliminate some of the bad stuff I did.
Do you come into the offseason saying, 'I'm the starter?'
I would hope everyone does. That's what you've got to have -- guys that want to be out there and want to be on the field and want to be in those pressure situations and want to contribute to the team. So, I would hope that that's everyone's mentality.
There are going to be a lot of guys competing for those spots, though. They drafted Harrison Smith in the first round. They drafted Robert Blanton. Jamarca Sanford is back. I would guess they'll be trying a bunch of combinations and seeing what sticks.
It's good for us. It's good for everybody. Competition brings out the best in the man. So, like I told the guys, man -- let's not look at it as we're competing against each other, but we've all got common goals, so moreso, we're competion with each other. The best guys are going to be on the field. But regardless, as long as we're all prepared, no matter who's on the field, hopefully, we can do some good things for this team. That's what important -- just making sure we just get it all together.
How much is different schematically with Alan Williams taking over as coordinator?
It's pretty similar. He's coming from a Cover-2 scheme. So, it's a lot of similarities. Maybe just a few different terminologies and he's throwing a few wrinkles here and there. But before you get familiar with the defense and everything, you want to get familiar with the person. So, just trying to sit down with him and learn what he's all about and what he expects, what his expectations are -- not only from us, but from himself. It's been good for us and it's working for us right now. We're flying around and making some plays on the ball.
And he has to get to know you guys, too, so he can figure out how to put people in a position to succeed.
Absolutely. And he'll be the first to tell you that. He doesn't know us like the back of his hand right now. But once he gets familiar with us, he'll learn what he do better in some areas and some areas we don't.