The tearing of Chad Beebe’s ankle ligaments three days earlier created quite the juxtaposition of Purple-clad reunions at TCO Performance Center on Wednesday.
To one side of the Vikings locker room stood punt returner Marcus Sherels, one of the franchise’s all-time overachievers. He replaces Beebe the punt returner, who ultimately replaced Sherels after the Rochester native and former Gopher signed with the Saints in March.
“They asked me if I’d be ready to go; I told them yes,” said the 31-year-old former undrafted cornerback who owns nearly every team punt return record, including five career touchdowns, one of which came at Chicago, where the Vikings play Sunday.
“I’ve caught punts for many years in all kind of weather and situations.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the locker room, stood receiver Laquon Treadwell, one of the team’s all-time underachievers. He replaces Beebe, the undrafted second-year receiver, who shoved former first-round pick Treadwell out the door on cutdown day four weeks ago.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Treadwell said when asked if he expected that a 24-year-old former first-rounder went unsigned for a month.
“In this business, coaches and teams, they know what they want, and they got a core group of guys. Me getting released before Week 1, for me, if I was in the other seat, it would be hard for me to just put a guy on my team. I understood that and I knew patience was a virtue.”
In Sherels, the Vikings have that old-pair-of-jeans comfort level back after Beebe muffed three punts the past two games. Sherels suffered an undisclosed injury two days before the Saints’ preseason opener against the Vikings, missed the entire preseason and reached an injury settlement when, ironically, undrafted rookie Deonte Harris made him expendable.
Sherels said he’s been 100% healthy for weeks. The Vikings agreed.
“Marcus is a great kid; they both are,” Zimmer said. “We needed a punt returner, so that was pretty simple.”
Simple as in Sherels has led the team in punt returns eight times, a record by three. Simple as in Sherels has 2,447 career punt return yards, a franchise record by more than 600. Simple as in he holds the top two marks in single-game yardage (119, 116), the top two marks in single-season average (15.2, 13.9) and the career average record (10.6).
Treadwell wasn’t quite as simple. Yes, he knows the system. Yes, his preseason numbers were elevated as the team showcased him in a failed attempt to squeeze even a seventh-round pick out of a trade partner. But he has posted a grand total of 56 catches for 517 yards and one touchdown in three seasons.
“Tread has been working hard,” Zimmer said. “I talked to him last week. I think he’s rededicated himself to the things he needs to try to get done. He knows the system and we anticipate him doing well.”
Treadwell likely will be the fourth of four receivers behind Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and rookie Olabisi Johnson. He’s OK with that after four weeks of coping with being rejected by a team for the first time in his life. In fact, when the team that dumped him called back Monday, he said, “I jumped for joy a little bit. I’m not going to lie. I was kind of super geeked up.”
After he was released, Treadwell reached out to players and coaches he knows. One of them was Zimmer who, at the time, had no need for a receiver but took some time to help Treadwell evaluate Treadwell, who had unsuccessful tryouts with Buffalo and Detroit back in Week 1.
“I’m sure he was disappointed [by being released] but I talked to him about really what he needs to do to prove that this is the thing that he really wants to do,” Zimmer said. “How important this is to him. I think this has always been important to him, but I think maybe he might have went about it the wrong way. So I just tried to give him some insight into what he has to do moving forward. Hopefully, he’ll see that.”
He does, according to Treadwell.
“It’s a fresh start for me,” he said. “I’m going to have fun with it.”
Meanwhile, there was no talk of needing a fresh start on the other side of the locker room.
“It kind of feels like I never left,” Sherels said.