Vikings seek to strike gold again with rookies on special teams

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2013 - 6:16 PM
hide

Blair Walsh, front, excelled as a rookie kicker for the Vikings, earning All-Pro honors. Now, the Vikings hope to strike gold with another special teams rookie, punter Jeff Locke, left. “He’s got a big leg,’’ special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “A real big leg.’’

Photo: CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Rick Gosselin, longtime NFL reporter for the Dallas Morning News, has been ranking the league’s special teams units for the past 33 years. Guess which Purple-clad squad was most special a year ago? ¶ No, it wasn’t the Super Bowl champion Ravens. It was the Vikings. ¶ Gosselin assigns points to teams based on where they stand in 22 objective categories. And according to Gosselin, the Vikings “booted the most field goals, committed the fewest turnovers and allowed the fewest points” on special teams a year ago. ¶ Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer returns for his third season in Minnesota. He’ll have many of the same unusually talented players to work with, such as defensive end Everson Griffen, a 6-3, 273-pounder with 4.6 speed. But he’ll also be introducing new faces in critical places, such as rookies Jeff Locke at punter and Cordarrelle Patterson at kick returner. ¶ Here’s a closer look at those two players, as well as All-Pro kicker Blair Walsh, the headliner in Gosselin’s defending champion special teams units.

BLAIR WALSH: Avoiding the sophomore slump

What’s more difficult? Getting to the top or staying on top? Blair Walsh is about to find out at the tender age of 23.

With seemingly nowhere to go but down, Walsh will try to avoid the sophomore slump, a phenomenon that all kickers who had good-to-great rookie years recognize as a distinct possibility. Right, Nick Folk?

“The sophomore slump is a good thing to acknowledge and understand,” Walsh said. “But, yeah, you don’t want to dwell on it.”

Walsh had perhaps the finest rookie season by a kicker in NFL history. He made 35 of 38 field-goal attempts. His NFL-record 10 field goals of 50 yards or longer came without a miss. His 141 points ranked second by a rookie in NFL history. And he also crushed the team record for touchbacks with 53.

Can he keep that going with a new holder [Locke] and three more outdoor games [seven] than a year ago?

“There’s always room for improvement,” Walsh said. “We’ve gone through every kick, every kickoff from last year. There are things I can do to improve. It’s really a never-ending process to maintain the kind of consistency you need at this level.”

CORDARRELLE PATTERSON: bigger version of Percy?

One of the reasons the Vikings traded back into the first round to nab Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson 29th overall was the confidence that he can make an immediate impact as a kick returner even if it takes him a full season or longer to develop into an elite NFL receiver.

“Kickoff return-wise,” Priefer said, “he has all the abilities and tools right now to be a factor. A major factor.”

Patterson and his predecessor, Percy Harvin, have similar skills in very dissimilar bodies. At 6-2, 220 pounds, Patterson is about 4 inches taller and 35 pounds heavier.

“The first thing you notice,” Priefer said, “is when he walks in your room and takes up the doorway. You’re like, ‘Wow, that is a big man.’ ”

A year ago, Harvin was leading the league with a 35.9-yard average per return with one touchdown when he was injured in the ninth game. Patterson averaged 28 yards per return with a touchdown in his only season at Tennessee.

“I think it would be unfair for me or anybody else in our organization to come out and say, ‘OK, Cordarrelle, you’re going to replace Percy Harvin,’ ” Priefer said. “That’s not fair to him. But I am excited about his ability and the direction we’re going.”

JEFF LOCKE: Pressure? What pressure?

Locke is the quietest punter the Vikings have had in nine seasons. Except for the bang that comes when his left foot makes contact with the football.

“He’s got a big leg,” Priefer said. “A real big leg.”

A year ago this time, Priefer was insisting that then-rookie Walsh had what it took — and then some — to replace a dependable longtime veteran in Ryan Longwell. Skeptics snickered. Walsh became a record-setting All-Pro first-teamer.

Well, here we go again.

Priefer’s belief in Locke convinced the Vikings to select him in the fifth round and quickly release yet another dependable longtime veteran in Chris Kluwe. Not only are skeptics snickering, they’re also suggesting the Vikings made the move only because they had grown tired of Kluwe’s attention-seeking actions for his many off-field causes and interests.

By comparison, camouflage draws more attention than Locke.

“I try not to look at it as me replacing Chris,” Locke said. “I do my thing and focus on my technique. Hopefully, the results speak for themselves. If I think about the pressure of the shoes I’m filling, the worse off I’ll be.”

Locke ranks second in UCLA history in punts (275) and average (44.23 yards per punt). He also showed this preseason that he has the skills and the leg strength to get the job done.

But, like it or not, there is pressure in replacing a guy who played here eight years and ranks No. 1 in franchise history in punting average (44.4) and No. 2 in net average (37.2). Especially when one considers that the Vikings are a run-oriented, ball-control team that depends heavily on favorable field position.

“We talked about that in our internal meetings [before the draft],” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We are structured a little bit different than some NFL teams. Special teams are a big part of it. [Punter] for us has a lot of weight, but we are confident Jeff can get the job done.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs 5 Top 8th Inning
St. Louis 1
Cincinnati 0 Top 2nd Inning
Pittsburgh 3
Minnesota - K. Gibson 6:05 PM
Baltimore - C. Tillman
Philadelphia - J. Williams 6:10 PM
NY Mets - B. Colon
Miami - J. Cosart 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Harang
Boston - A. Webster 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - J. Odorizzi
Cleveland - T. Bauer 6:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Detroit - K. Ryan 6:10 PM
Chicago WSox - C. Bassitt
Texas - R. Ross Jr. 6:10 PM
Houston - S. Feldman
Colorado - T. Matzek 7:10 PM
Arizona - V. Nuno
Chicago Cubs - T. Wada 7:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Gonzales
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke 7:40 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Milwaukee - M. Fiers 8:05 PM
San Francisco - J. Peavy
Oakland - J. Samardzija 8:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Rasmus
Washington - S. Strasburg 8:10 PM
Seattle - R. Elias
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 6 3rd Qtr
Massachusetts 0
West Virginia 3 2nd Qtr 14:11
(2) Alabama 10
Rice 7 2nd Qtr 15:00
(17) Notre Dame 14
(10) South Dakota St 7 2nd Qtr 13:05
(24) Missouri 21
Fla Atlantic 7 2nd Qtr 14:25
(22) Nebraska 14
California 17 2nd Qtr 11:00
Northwestern 0
Marshall 21 2nd Qtr 14:11
Miami-Ohio 0
UC Davis 0 1st Qtr 5:22
(11) Stanford 7
Arkansas 7 1st Qtr 4:25
(6) Auburn 14
(16) Clemson 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 1st Half 35:00
Seattle 0
New England 4:00 PM
Toronto FC
Columbus 6:30 PM
Montreal
FC Dallas 7:30 PM
Chicago
Real Salt Lake 9:30 PM
San Jose
Portland 9:30 PM
Vancouver FC
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Chicago 6:00 PM
Indiana
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many fantasy football teams do you draft?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close