Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has been enjoying the plethora of options he has during the preseason, with the 90-man roster giving him lots of players at his disposal for his specialty units.
“It’s not a handicap at all,” Priefer said Wednesday at Winter Park. “[Against Tampa Bay] we used 50 different guys in four phases alone. We like to train all these guys … we work three punt teams, three kickoff teams, two punt return, two kickoff return, three field goal teams. The more guys you prepare the better, because those last 8-10 spots you don’t know who they are going to be. No. 2, if we release them, they have a chance to go somewhere else and make a team.
Priefer said Cordarrelle Patterson certainly figures to be the team’s lead kickoff return man, even though the Vikings have used and will use different players in that role in the preseason.
“[Patterson] knows we have to prepare in case he’s not the kickoff returner if he’s injured or if he’s involved in the offense a lot more, whatever the case may be,” Priefer said. “If he’s fresh he’ll be back there … if he’s healthy he’ll be back there. He knows he’ll get more touches as the preseason goes on to prepare him for the regular season.”
It seems clear Priefer would like sure-handed veteran Marcus Sherels to be his punt return man when the regular season comes.
“Sherels more than likely will be our [punt] returner if everything works toward what I would like obviously,” Priefer said. “He’s [also] an excellent backup kickoff returner and he can play halfback on a kickoff return team because he’s an effective blocker as well, no matter what his size is.”
The Vikings looked strong in the punt return category in the preseason, but Priefer said that’s mostly because they aren’t guarding against fake punts.
“Starting now in the preseason and then into the regular season, fourth and short, I can’t have six in the box [because] they can fake it at any time,” he said. “Obviously we’re out there to defend against the fake first, or any broken formation or whatever the case may be, and from there get a big return. We’ve been working a lot of technique right now, assuming the other team isn’t going to fake a punt this early in the preseason.”
Rookie Stefon Diggs has been flashier in the punt return department so far, but Priefer said, “Stefon had the benefit of some really great blocking and he’s done a great job of hitting the seams. Marcus has had two pretty explosive returns himself without the benefit of as much blocking. It’s a great battle so far.”