Vikings' punt return job still open

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2012 - 6:42 AM

There are many candidates for the job.

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Marcus Sherels

Photo: Andy King, Associated Press - Ap

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There are two more preseason games to go and Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer still isn't sure who his full-time punt returner will be. And Priefer might not get the final call; it might depend on who coach Leslie Frazier decides to keep on his final roster.

Jarius Wright, Josh Robinson, Bryan Walters and Marcus Sherels all got a shot at the position Friday against Buffalo. Priefer likes the big-play potential of Robinson and Wright but loves the reliability of Sherels, who might not break many big returns but can be depended on to secure the ball.

Buffalo punters did a good job, which made Priefer's job of evaluating his returners more difficult.

"We have to solidify who that is going forward, because we're running out of time to make that decision," Priefer said. "I have my ideas because of practice tape. ... The guy I'm most comfortable with would be Marcus, because he's done it before and he's very sure-handed. Josh has got some juice to him, as you've seen on defense as well. Walters has been there before, and Jarius is kind of in the developmental stage right now, to be honest with you."

Sherels handed the job fulltime last season, averaging 8.4 yards per return. With the competition more intense in the defensive backfield this year, being the punt returner might be Sherels' best chance to make the final roster.

Priefer might have to lobby with Frazier.

"Like any roster spot, returner is extremely important," Priefer said. "At this time of the year, I have to pick and choose my battles. That's why I watch practice and listen to the other coaches and their evaluations of the position players. It's going to be real interesting the next couple weeks what we end up doing."

That means the development of Robinson, a cornerback, and Wright, a receiver, will be closely watched. Both have had difficulties tracking the ball, especially on kicks outside. That said, Priefer said he would also pick the sure-handed receiver.

"I've preached ball security since I've been here," he said.

Fusco improving

Injuries have given Brandon Fusco the starting right guard spot almost by default. But Frazier doesn't want Fusco to get too comfortable, and is motivating the second-year player.

"We still have to keep giving him more opportunities to be in situations," Frazier said. "This weekend will be a good test for him. San Diego has a good front, although it's a 3-4. He's been a lot more consistent than he has been in the past."

Injuries have decreased the competition at the spot. Geoff Schwartz is out (sports hernia), and neither Joe Berger nor Chris DeGeare has been able to unseat Fusco. Still, Frazier does not want the second-year guard to feel the position is being handed to him.

"You don't want it to be starter by default," Frazier said. "You want to keep putting him in situations to see how he handles things, and then make a determination on it. He's done a good job, but he's had a limited amount of experience."

Etc.

• Cornerback Chris Cook (concussion) still is not cleared to practice. Frazier said he hoped Cook could practice Wednesday but that he probably would miss the third preseason game. That means more snaps for Robinson and Chris Carr. Frazier didn't say who would start.

• Defensive end Everson Griffen, who missed Monday's workouts because of illness, returned to practice Tuesday. Also back on the field was linebacker Solomon Elimimian (hamstring), who returned after missing two days of practice. Not practicing were Cook, receiver Kamar Jordan (hand), guard Bridger Buche, Schwartz and John Carlson (knee).

• Offensive lineman DeMarcus Love looked good in practice Monday and could play in Friday's game against San Diego.

• Frazier said he would limit the snaps for running back Toby Gerhart over the final two preseason games.

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