Once a week, Mark Craig will get on and off the field quickly, then focus a spotlight on a player and a coach.
ON-THE-FIELD WITH ...
Anthony Harris, Vikings special teams leader
Question: You play on every special teams unit. Yet you’ve had only two penalties on special teams — and three total — in 43 NFL games. You haven’t had a special teams penalty since Week 13 of the 2016 season. What’s the key to avoiding the illegal blocking penalties that are so common on punt and kickoff returns?
Answer: “Just knowing where the returner is. Knowing which direction he’s going to return it. Taking good angles, block the guy where he’s going, not where he’s at. And also making that split-second decision about whether to even make the effort to get that extra block. You have to decide whether the returner can make the guy miss and you can maybe avoid the penalty. And even if your guy is in position to make the tackle and his back is turned to you, avoid the block and trust the returner can do something to make him miss. It takes a little bit of experience to realize that, hey, wasn’t able to execute my block and the guy made the tackle at the 20, but it’s better than just hitting the guy and now the ball gets moved back to the 10.”
OFF-THE-FIELD WITH ...
Kevin McDermott, Vikings long snapper
Question: The tip of your left pinkie finger was torn off in the Rams game when it got stuck in the facemask of an opposing player. We heard you looked for it at halftime but couldn’t find it. How long did you look, who helped you and do you consider yourself the Ronnie Lott of long-snappers?
Answer: “Some of the trainers and [punter] Matt Wile helped me look for it at the spot on the field where it happened. We spent about 20 seconds. It’s gone forever inside the Los Angeles Coliseum. A weird injury. As for Ronnie Lott, he voluntarily had his amputated. He broke it and was going to have to sit out the next week or have it amputated. That’s another level of weird.”
SPOTLIGHT PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buccaneers quarterback
Four games after an abysmal first half against the Bears got him benched, Fitzmagic is back as the starter at Carolina. Can he jump-start the Bucs’ season a second time? Last week at Cincinnati, he erased an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit while in relief of Jameis Winston. The Bengals kicked a last-second field goal to win, but Fitzpatrick’s second half — 11-for-15 for 194 yards, two TDs and no interceptions — stood in stark contrast to Winston’s four-interception, five-sack first half.
SPOTLIGHT COACH OF THE WEEK
Freddie Kitchens, Browns interim offensive coordinator
At 2-5-1, the Browns’ only realistic goal for the final eight games is to not completely screw up Baker Mayfield. In eight games as a pro, Mayfield has lost his most talented receiver (Josh Gordon), his top running back (Carlos Hyde), his head coach (Hue Jackson) and his offensive coordinator (Todd Haley). The latter two were fired Monday. So in steps the 43-year-old Kitchens, promoted from running backs coach. He played quarterback at Alabama from 1993-97. His first NFL coaching job was in 2006 in Dallas. He joined the Browns this year after spending 11 years with the Cardinals. Kitchens has never been a coordinator. He’s called plays once, in a preseason game this year. Good luck, Baker.