How many Vikings does it take to replace a Marcus Sherels?
Asked Thursday to describe his confidence in the team’s new punt returner, special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said there’s “a good chance” the team will use not one, but three punt returners when it opens the season against Atlanta on Sunday.
Receivers Chad Beebe and Olabisi Johnson and running back Ameer Abdullah each returned punts in the preseason. And that, Maalouf said, could continue into the regular season with each returner being assigned an area on the field.
“We feel good about it,” Maalouf said. “We’ve got three guys who can possibly do it. It will depend on the situation and where we’re at in the game. Those guys have done a good job in the preseason preparing. We’re excited.”
Sherels was the team’s punt returner for the past eight seasons before signing with the Saints, who let him go this week.
So, is Beebe the “lead” returner, as most who follow the team have anticipated?
“Yeah, he’s going to have a role; I don’t know if you call it a lead role,” Maalouf said. “Everybody kind of has their own areas of the field that we’ll cover. We’ll kind of play it by ear. It just kind of depends at where we’re at in the game. It’s hard to predict that.”
Isn’t that a bit unusual, the team’s new special teams coach was asked?
“For me, it’s not unusual,” Maalouf said. “I’ve had guys do it a lot, actually. I think you graduate, hopefully, to a position where maybe one guy does the majority of it.
“For now, I think it’s important that we take advantage of all the talent we have and get those guys on the field depending on the situation.”
Twin Cities reporters began quizzing tight end Kyle Rudolph about the Vikings’ “culture” Thursday morning as news spread that the Oakland Raiders were planning to suspend mercurial receiver Antonio Brown after a string of incidents that culminated in a reported altercation with General Manager Mike Mayock on Wednesday.
In praising that Purple culture, as others have before, Rudolph said it starts with ownership setting the standard and includes the front office and coaches targeting “a certain type of player.”
Asked what role the players have in policing that culture, Rudolph said, “If the players aren’t policing it, then you won’t have a good locker room.
‘‘Coach [Mike] Zimmer leads by example and he sets the standard for us. He lets us know as leaders what he expects out of this team. From there, it’s on us as players to hold each other accountable.”
But, generally speaking, what happens when the violator of said culture is a superstar like Brown?
“It’s not easy, especially a guy who plays at such a high level on Sunday,” Rudolph said. “But as a leader of a football team, that’s something you have to do. And the best football teams are the teams whose superstars are the ones that are policing each other.”
• Receiver Stefon Diggs returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. He and cornerback Mike Hughes (knee) were the only players who were limited.
• The players and Zimmer picked six captains for this season. Three offense, three defense. They are: Kirk Cousins, Kyle Rudolph, Riley Reiff, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr. Free safety Harrison Smith, a decorated player, 2017 first-team All-Pro and respected presence in the locker room, declined one of the spots. He prefers to give that honor to teammates.
• Maalouf gave a strong endorsement of new punter Britton Colquitt’s ability to also hold for placekicks, which he’s done throughout his 10-year career.
“There’s a level of smoothness,” Maalouf said. “Just seeing him really place the ball down and getting the spot. He hasn’t had any problems with that for a long time before he got here.”