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Vikings' safety Sendejo must prove his worth

John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press Minnesota safety Andrew Sendejo walks to practice on the second day of training camp July 26 at Minnesota State University in Mankato.

By Brian Murphy

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MANKATO — The audition never ends for Vikings safety and survivalist Andrew Sendejo, an undrafted free agent and United Football League refugee with more teams on his resume than interceptions.

Never mind the 10 starts he made for Minnesota in 2013 and the playmaking flashes that made him a feel-good story in a chaotic 5-10-1 season that razed the coaching staff.

Or security the Vikings’ $2 million contract extension gave him after four pit stops on the NFL’s free-agent, special-teams circuit.

Sendejo, who is expected to be removed from the physically unable to perform list today, once again starts from zero. He is trying to prove his health and worth in another scheme implemented by another raft of coaches.

“That’s the NFL,” Sendejo said last week. “You have to prove yourself all the time regardless because if you don’t, someone else is going to take your job. As soon as you feel comfortable with yourself, you’re not in the NFL anymore.”

Sendejo had back surgery in May. He missed organized team activities, minicamp and any chance to impress first-year head coach Mike Zimmer.

“All I’ve seen him do is walk around the building,” Zimmer said. “I have zero template to work with. I think he can still make an impression. You’ve got to get into some of these games to do it.”

The Vikings open the preseason Friday night against the Oakland Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium.

Every day at camp Sendejo has run through his strong safety progressions during walk-throughs and team drills as an observer, however, not a participant.

He watched Robert Blanton, Minnesota’s 2012 fifth-round pick, steal the spotlight with an interception and aggressive pass defense. And ceded reps to Kurt Coleman, a five-year veteran who collected seven interceptions in 59 games with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2010-13.

Sendejo returns to the same mix with 2011 sixth-round pick Mistral Raymond, and Jamarca Sanford, a hustler who has started 44 of 70 games for the Vikings since 2009.

“I’m just trying to stay mentally prepared so when I do come back there’s no lapse,” Sendejo said. “You’ve really got to study and take advantage of those mental reps.”

When free safety Harrison Smith went down with a turf toe injury in October, Sendejo stepped into the breach.

He picked up his first NFL interception in Week 14 against Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and had a second, potential game-ending interception late in the fourth quarter negated by a dubious pass interference penalty against linebacker Chad Greenway.

Sendejo’s intensity made him a natural fit on special teams, where he thrived for the Vikings in 2012. But his confidence at safety grew exponentially with experience.

“It was due to an injury, which you never want to see, one of your buddies going down,” he said about Smith. “But that’s part of being a backup. You’ve got to be ready to go at any time.”

Put it on tape, and NFL scouts eventually will find you. That is the journeyman’s credo. They found Sendejo, a Rice product, in the spring of 2010 playing for the Sacramento Mountain Lions in the now-defunct United Football League.

Ignored by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following a rookie camp tryout, Sendejo landed in the upstart league and was coached in Sacramento by former Vikings coach Dennis Green. He finished second in the UFL in tackles and was runner-up for the defensive player of the year award.

The Dallas Cowboys initially signed Sendejo to their practice squad and later activated him for three games on special teams late in the 2010 season. He returned for training camp in 2011 and was among the final players reassigned to the practice squad.

The New York Jets, scheduled to open the regular season against the Cowboys, snatched Sendejo off waivers. The move to gain a scouting report on an opponent was made transparent when Sendejo was released two weeks later.

Failed tryouts with the Eagles and Tennessee Titans followed. The Vikings, plagued by a rash of injuries in their secondary late in 2011, eventually signed Sendejo, who was thrust into the safety rotation during the final three games of a forgettable 13-loss season.

He found a fit with the Vikings, whose patience paid off in developing a plug-and-play defender nobody else wanted.

However, that patience could be wearing thin.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.