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Sherels: Surviving and thriving as a little man on Vikings special teams

A wandering thought came to mind Monday while watching 90 players on the practice fields of Winter Park.

It went something like this, “Wonder how many of these guys were around when Marcus Sherels — the Little Train that Could — survived Brad Childress’ rookie minicamp tryout back in the spring of 2010?”

The answer: 2.

Brian Robison and Everson Griffen. And Griffen had joined the team only a week earlier when he was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.

At 175 pounds, Sherels is tied with rookie corner Sam Brown as the lightest guy on this year’s team. Sam probably won’t be around past cutdown day. Marcus probably will be.

Again.

Sherels’ strength as a punt returner is visible. He’s quick, faster than advertised and exerts absolutely no wasted movements as he works in unison with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer’s blocking schemes.

Sherels owns the franchise’s top two single-season punt return averages (15.2, 13.9), the career mark of 10.6, and the records for most career punt return touchdowns (five) and punt returns of 50 yards or more (seven).

But Sherels also is an elite coverage guy on kickoffs — as an outside safety — and on punt returns as one of the gunners.

Watching the smaller Sherels work as a gunner is interesting. It defies playground logic. The shorter, lighter guy with the shorter arms isn’t supposed to be able to escape when he’s being blocked by two bigger, heavier guys with longer arms.

Please explain, Mr. Priefer.

“As a gunner, he’s phenomenally quick,” Priefer said. “He has a plan when he gets up to the line of scrimmage as far as what he’s going to do against that opponent. He studies tape. He’s kind of a film junkie.

“I’ll make suggestions and he’ll make suggestions. We’ve know each other seven years now, so we’re always talking” about ways to get through blocks at the line of scrimmage.

Sherels tipped his helmet to Priefer when asked to do his least favorite thing: Talk about himself.

“I just use the techniques they teach,” he said. “If you do that, you’ll be all right.”

Not some of us, Marcus.

Sherels said he does study a lot of film of opponents’ moves, but added, “everybody does that.”

“You can’t show a guy the same move every time,” Sherels said. “Every time, it’s a little bit different. That’s why we scout. That’s why we watch a lot of film.”

Priefer said Sherels’ small frame makes proper technique an absolute must.

“He has to be better in his technique than the guy who is bigger and stronger,” Priefer said. “And if you really study him as a gunner on game tape, it looks like practice tape because his releases are perfect. His pad levels are perfect, how he leans and stacks the corner on punt return when he’s the gunner … all those little things, he just does better than everybody else. And that’s how he’s able to be successful.”

Before Vikings-Seahawks meet, Mike Priefer wishes Blair Walsh well

For as long as Blair Walsh is in the NFL, he’ll be inextricably linked to the Seattle Seahawks. That’s a consequence of missing one of the most famous field goals in NFL playoff history, and it’ll be true whether or not Walsh is kicking for the team he helped send to the second round of the playoffs back in January 2016.

And with the Vikings heading west to face the Seahawks in their second preseason game on Friday night, Walsh’s 27-yard miss in the NFC wild card playoffs is back in the news, as is his ignominious exit from Minnesota. The Vikings cut Walsh last November, after he missed four field goals and four extra points in nine games (including two critical misses against the Lions on Nov. 5), and the kicker signed with Seattle in February.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who stood by Walsh through a round of struggles that seemed largely tied to the kicker’s confidence in the wake of his playoff miss, said he contacted Walsh to congratulate him when he signed with the Seahawks.

“I was happy for him, and that’s pretty much it,” Priefer said. “I’ll say hello to him; I’ve got no ill will. I like Blair. He’s a fine young man and we had four-and-a-half years together, so I’ve known him for a long time.”

In his first game with the Seahawks, Walsh hit two field goals — from 42 and 28 yards out — and made all six of his extra points. If that was a sign Walsh has moved on from his travails with the Vikings, count Priefer among those who are hoping for Walsh to make the best of his fresh start.

“He did a lot of really good things here in Minnesota,” Priefer said. “I know it didn’t end well for him and for us a couple years ago, but at the end of the day, he’s a very talented young man.”

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