MANKATO – The Vikings have picked an interim replacement for special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, pulling longtime special teams coach Joe Marciano out of “kind of” retirement to fill in while Priefer serves his team-mandated suspension.
Marciano has coached special teams in the NFL for 28 seasons. He spent the past 12 with the Houston Texans and had been with them since their inception before he was fired along with head coach Gary Kubiak and others after a lost 2013 season. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said that Marciano was “kind of retired,” making him the true interim option they were looking for.
Marciano joined the team in Mankato on Saturday and coached the unit along with Priefer and special teams assistant Ryan Ficken, who was also considered for the interim job, during Sunday’s practices.
“He’s a great guy. Very, very knowledgeable,” Zimmer said. “We felt like in our thinking that it would be good to get someone in here the next three weeks of camp to get a feel of exactly how we’re doing things, where we can continue to speak the same language and have some veteran experience for the first couple of ballgames, especially with me being a new head coach.”
Priefer was suspended three games by the Vikings for making an anti-gay comment during the 2012 season. Priefer can coach in the preseason but must be away from the team once the regular season starts. His suspension can be reduced to two games if he completes sensitivity training. The plan is for Marciano’s time with the team to end once Priefer returns.
Priefer had input in the conversations about his interim replacement, but he did not make the final decision. He said that he has a “great deal of mutual respect” for Marciano, who coached against both Priefer and his father, Chuck, who was a longtime special teams coach in the league.
“It was something we had talked about probably a week or so before training camp. I think it’s a great idea,” Priefer said. “Again, I’ve said that I think Ryan can handle it. There’s no doubt in my mind he can. I can understand why we’d bring in a veteran coach. The fact that Joe was available was a benefit and a plus for us.”
Injuries piling up
The Vikings have avoided injuries, especially major ones, throughout training camp. But two days after beating the Oakland Raiders 10-6 in their preseason opener, they were as short-handed as they have been all summer at Sunday’s practice.
“We came out of the game really, fairly healthy,” Zimmer said. “We had a couple of little things.”
Defensive tackle Tom Johnson, safety Mistral Raymond and linebacker Dom DeCicco suffered unspecified injuries against the Raiders and did not practice. Also sitting out were nose tackle Linval Joseph (calf) and safeties Robert Blanton (hamstring) and Jamarca Sanford (back).
In positive injury news, Marcus Sherels (hamstring) and fellow cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) returned to practice Sunday after sitting out the preseason opener.
Pass protection becomes a concern
The Vikings allowed six sacks during the win over the Raiders and had another negated by a defensive penalty on the Raiders. On 12 passing plays, the first-team offensive line surrendered a pair of sacks and allowed four other pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I was pleased especially with the run blocking. We have to clean up the pocket for the quarterback a little bit better,” Zimmer said. “We have to give them more [time]. Those quarterbacks love to have that clean pocket.”
Sherels is the guy
Despite a strong performance from Adam Thielen on punt returns Friday night, Priefer said he expects Sherels to be the team’s primary punt returner when the regular season opens Sept. 7.
“Marcus has earned that job,” Priefer said. “Obviously, he will feel a little bit of pressure from Adam or any other young returner. But Marcus is the guy that we have relied on so heavily the last three years that we see him to have continued success, I hope.”
Tight end added
With only four healthy tight ends on the roster, the Vikings used their vacant spot on the 90-man roster to sign veteran tight end Kory Sperry, who played for the Arizona Cardinals last season.
Sperry, 29, has played for three NFL teams over five seasons, including a stint with the San Diego Chargers when offensive coordinator Norv Turner was their head coach. He has nine catches for 152 yards and a TD in his career.