EAGAN, Minn. – It would have been understandable if Camryn Bynum battled some pregame nerves Sunday.
It probably was even expected. After all, the rookie safety received a call from Vikings defensive backs coach Karl Scott less than 10 minutes after waking up in his Baltimore hotel room: "You're up."
After playing just nine defensive snaps (five against Seattle and four against Dallas) through the Vikings first seven games, Bynum was getting the call to start in place of Harrison Smith, who had been placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
"Just like we talked about earlier in the season, you're one play, one mishap away from being the guy, so I was blessed enough to get the opportunity," Bynum said. "He called me, and I told him, 'I'm ready.' "
Asked about any anxiety before stepping into a much larger role, Bynum simply offered a comfortable smile.
"I didn't have any nerves, to be honest," he said. "Just through this whole process, it's been a privilege to sit behind [Smith] and [Xavier Woods], and to be able to learn so much from them.
"I didn't have any nerves, just because I knew and I was confident in my preparation," Bynum reiterated. "Every week, I prepare like a starter, and being able to watch Harry and watch X, I've learned so much by being able to listen and hear their conversations and see what they do on the field in practices and games. Watching them helped me out so much."
The 23-year-old didn't only make his first NFL start, though. He nabbed his first career interception, picking off 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson to help give Minnesota a chance.
Bynum said he was "just thanking God" and admitted it still seems a little surreal.
"It was the craziest feeling ever – didn't feel real, just 'cause it still hasn't hit me that I'm in the NFL," he said. "I don't know that it ever will, but at the end of the day, football is football, so I went out there and expected to make a play."
When Bynum saw the Ravens offense set up, he immediately recognized it as a look he'd seen all week during Vikings practices.
"I was like, 'If I'm going to get that opportunity, I've got to come down with it.' That's why I had to reach, stretch out for that ball and try to come down with it, and I did," Bynum said. "There was no way I was going to let that opportunity slip."
He further detailed the play, noting that the defense was in middle-open coverage, so he expected Baltimore to try attacking the middle of the field.
"So as soon as I saw the quarterback look me off and then go back to the front side, that's when I knew I was free game to make a break, and that's when me and Xavier, we both had it viced and if I didn't make the play, he would have made the play on that," Bynum explained. "So that was just a good job on both safeties, and the whole secondary doing [its] job was able to free me up for the play."
Any time a rookie snags an interception or similarly flashy play in his first start is impressive. But what makes Bynum's performance perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that he didn't even play safety in college.
The Vikings drafted Bynum out of California with the intention of moving him from cornerback to safety, a transition he embraced out of the gate. He did explain that he's had to retrain some muscle memory and eye discipline, though, from his former position.
"As a corner, you're so locked in. Half the time you're in man coverage, and other times you're on the edge, so your vision is a lot easier because you're looking from the outside in," Bynum said. "But at safety now, my vision has to see the whole field. I have to see the formation and how that folds out pre-snap, and then once the ball snaps, I've got to be able to see guys coming on crossing routes, overs, everything coming from both sides of the field.
"It's still a process and something I'm working on, being able to see and have big vision and not see too much, where I end up with paralysis by analysis and not seeing anything at all," he continued. "It's always a fine line between getting your vision right and knowing exactly what to see as a safety now."
Can we increase the impressiveness scale one more time? Hear me out.
According to Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, Bynum had to step in Sunday and play a role different than the one he'd been prepping for in practice.
"I think he actually was playing a different position in the game than he's been practicing," Zimmer told Twin Cities media members Monday. "So for him to be able to come in there and, for the most part, understand exactly where he has to be and what he has to do, I thought was good.
"I thought he did a nice job in some of the run support things he had to do," Zimmer added. "He'll continue to get better from there."
That's certainly what the young defensive back plans on.
It's tough to take many positives out of a game Minnesota lost in heartbreaking fashion, but it's hard to argue Bynum was a bright spot on a tough day. It also seems likely that he'll start Sunday against the Chargers, assuming Smith is still under the required 10-day quarantine for an unvaccinated player.
Bynum said his mindset for this week doesn't change much given the bigger responsibility.
"This whole time I've been preparing like a starter, watching a bunch of tape as if I'm starting," he said. "Subconsciously you're going to be way more focused, but this whole time I've put in the work every single week as if I was playing, just in case. I didn't know I was playing until the morning of the game and I'm just glad my preparation was on point this whole time. I was just glad I could be dependable for my team."