Marcus Sherels became a Vikings fan favorite for a number of reasons after arriving with the team in 2010. He was “one of us,” hailing from Rochester and playing for the Gophers; he was an underdog, making the team as an undersized and undrafted free agent; and most importantly: he was good at what he did.
He ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL in punt return yard average in five of the past six seasons and is third on the NFL’s active list for total punt return yards.
Perhaps having a true specialist was a luxury the cap-strapped Vikings could no longer afford. Perhaps they decided the 31-year-old Sherels was on the decline or due for one. What we know for sure is that Sherels now plays for the Saints after agreeing to a one-year deal in New Orleans.
Quantifying how much fans will miss Sherels is difficult, though the basic answer is “a lot.” Quantifying how much the Vikings might miss Sherels is a little easier. But the answer is the same: “a lot.” Why?
Mike Zimmer values field position, and Sherels added it. The average NFL team returned 28.4 punts in 2018, and the average length of return was 8.5 yards. Sherels in the past six seasons has averaged 11.3 yards per return.
Also, Sherels was a game-breaker. Though he wasn’t flashy and didn’t look particularly dangerous, Sherels has five career punt returns for touchdowns — second among active NFL players and No. 14 all-time.
Sherels was dangerous as a return man, but he was pretty careful with the ball.
In eight years as a return man, he had just eight regular-season fumbles and lost just two of those — so one fumble a year, and one lost fumble every four years.
In the NFL last season, there were 83 total fumbles among the 32 teams on punt returns — about 2.6 per team.
Maybe Sherels’ replacement will do a great job next season and the Vikings won’t miss a beat. Or maybe the Vikings will miss Sherels just as much as it sounds like their fans will miss him.
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Look no further than point differential to see that the Gophers men’s basketball team got about as much out of this season as could have possibly been expected.
In games against Big Ten opponents — including Michigan State in the NCAA tournament — decided by 20 points or more, the Gophers were 1-5.
In games against Big Ten opponents decided by seven points or less, Minnesota was 7-4.
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The Gophers softball team has played 31 consecutive road games to start the season, and its home opener is slated for Friday against Purdue at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
Because of that extended road stretch, Minnesota’s accomplishments might be flying under the radar. But you should pay attention to this 22-9 team — and in particular powerful freshman Natalie DenHartog.
In 30 games played, DenHartog already has 10 home runs — halfway to the team record set by Kendyl Lindaman before the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year transferred to Florida this offseason.
If the fear was that the Gophers would fade from national prominence after Lindaman’s departure, DenHartog’s power surge is helping to change the narrative.
• The Wild’s pursuit of a playoff spot isn’t just a three-team chase for one spot. Dallas is suddenly vulnerable after a 1-3-1, and the Stars (just 16-17-3 on the road this season) have five of their final seven away from home.
They lead the Wild by just three points — and the teams face each other April 6 in Dallas in a regular-season finale that could have huge implications.