Suddenly, a lot of people want to talk to Stacy Coley, a rookie seventh-round draft pick, backup receiver and Vikings roster bubble battler.
That’s what happens when a fresh face flashes at a time when the preseason is young and the team’s offensive rut is old and all-too-familiar.
The Vikings’ starting offense netted 24 yards and one first down while running 13 plays to open Thursday’s 17-10 preseason victory at Buffalo. Two possessions later, Coley matched those 24 yards and that first down with one head-turning run after the catch that capped a game-high 38-yard gain.
“Run after the catch comes second nature to me as a receiver,” said Coley, who is also competing for the kick return job. “Your instincts just kick in and it’s definitely like a kick return. You don’t even know what you’re going to try and do until you see your blocks and what the defender throws at you.”
The 6-foot, 195-pounder from Miami (Fla.) had three catches for 67 yards against the Bills. The 38-yarder set up a field goal, while a 24-yard sideline grab at the Buffalo 2-yard line set up a touchdown.
“The 24-yarder was just a scramble drill,” said Coley, whose chances at receiver are enhanced by Michael Floyd’s four-game suspension to start the season. “Just me getting QB-friendly again. The QB [Case Keenum] was under pressure. I just have to roll to the side he’s on. Get to the sideline and make a great play. Everything worked out.”
In the kick return competition, fellow rookie Rodney Adams got all three attempts and averaged 21.7 yards. With No. 1 punt returner Marcus Sherels being rested, Adams averaged 5.5 yards on two returns while Coley returned his only attempt 8 yards.
The Vikings’ kick return plan for Friday at Seattle is to have running back Jerick McKinnon open the game as the kick returner. Coley will be next in line.
In his first two years in college, Coley returned 26 kickoffs for a 24.2-yard average and one touchdown. In his final two seasons, his only kick return was a 31-yarder in 2015.
“I can still do it,” Coley said. “It’s just instinctive reaction.”
Coley certainly showed that ability on his 38-yard reception.
The play began with Coley wide left on second-and-10 from the Vikings 36-yard line. Receivers Floyd and Rodney Adams were lined up to the right. Tight end David Morgan was tight to the right.
At the snap, cornerback Shareece Wright dropped out of his press coverage look, allowing Coley a free release.
“I got a good pre-coverage look at the defense,” Coley said. “They were in Cover 3, so I knew the linebacker [Gerald Hodges] was dropping and the safety [Shamiel Gary] would still be high.”
Coley ran a slant. Against that defense, there typically are two windows of opportunity for him to get the ball. The first is right off the line of scrimmage. The second comes once he’s cleared the middle linebacker.
“The ball came through the second window,” Coley said. “Then I got two good blocks from Rodney and Michael.”
Adams blocked Gary, the immediate threat. But cornerback Bradley Sylve came racing in from the right side with momentum and a proper angle.
That’s when Coley jabbed his left foot in the turf and shifted hard to the right. That caused Sylve to hesitate, stumble and disappear from the play in a blink.
“At that point, I knew Michael was somewhere nearby,” Coley said. “I saw him out of my peripheral, so I went around his block [of cornerback Marcus Sayles]. I knew David [Morgan] was over there, too, but he was kind of slow, so I just turned it up the field and made a great play.”
Floyd was flagged for an illegal block at the end of the play. But that wasn’t enough to keep an awful lot of people from wanting to talk to Coley this week.