EAGAN, Minn. — Third-year safety Jayron Kearse has followed the typical trajectory of a seventh-round draft pick since joining the Vikings in 2016. After scraping his way onto the active roster, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder has gotten most of his NFL playing time on special teams.
But Kearse wants a bigger role this season, and he got a start on that during Sunday's 24-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. He played 22 snaps on defense, mostly in the slot after an injury to starting cornerback Trae Waynes forced starting nickelback Mike Hughes outside.
"Yesterday was a big day for me showing that I can be more than a special teams player going into Year 3," Kearse said. "It was good for me to get out there and show that I can move around and make some plays."
Kearse didn't make any big plays, but more importantly, he wasn't a liability, which might be the most important thing to coach Mike Zimmer. He was flagged twice in the game, one on a questionable call that was declined.
"Other than (a pass interference call) I didn't notice him," Zimmer said. "Usually when I don't notice somebody, that's good."
Kearse feels he can make an impact in the Vikings' secondary that is plenty deep with Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo locked in as the starters, George Iloka in line to become a key reserve after signing late in training camp, and Anthony Harris serving as a valuable depth player.
"I didn't have a thought that we wouldn't keep five safeties," Kearse said, emphasizing that he never doubted he was going to make the team. "That wasn't really a thought in my head. I knew if I came out and did what I had to do, everything was going to work itself out."
It probably helps Kearse that the Vikings have decided to play three safeties at times this season. Typically, that means Smith and Sendejo will play their usual roles, and someone else will come in as a hybrid linebacker of sorts.
"It definitely adds another dynamic to the defense," Kearse said. "It's kind of different than some of the things that Coach Zimmer has done in the past. With the way the game is evolving, it's something he's taking in and trying to implement it. It's definitely going to be something that's going to help us a lot."
On Monday, Sept. 10, Zimmer said he expects Waynes to practice this week, meaning Kearse could find himself back on special teams during Sunday game at Green Bay.
Either way, Kearse clearly turn some heads in limited action against the 49ers.
"We preach that all the time: You have got to stay ready," Sendejo said. "As a safety, we know a lot of what everyone else is doing. It was a great job by him."