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Priefer On Punt Return Depth, Competition For Locke and More

Posted Aug 1, 2013

Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer

Q: We talk about Cordarrelle Patterson’s size, does it allow you to use him differently him more than you did Percy (Harvin)?

A: Percy is a little smaller, but he ran so hard too. He ran like a big man.  I don’t think we’re going to change a whole lot what we do schematically.  There might be some things that Cordarrelle’s a little better at than some other returners either that we have here or that I’ve had in the past.  He’s such a talented young man in terms of size, strength, speed and quickness. I mean he has great moves even for a big man.  So there’s a lot of different things we can do with him, and I’m looking forward to kind of tinkering with that as we get going in the season.

Q: Does it allow you to use him more freely and not have to worry about splitting time with offensive reps?

A: If he’s a starter on offense, or when he becomes a starter some day we’ll have to be smart, just like when we had Percy here.  Our head coach, and coach Musgrave have done a great job to work together, better than we did in 2011.  Last year, if there was a touch back, then the receiver would be in there on first down.  If he had a 30-yard return than he comes off for a play.  When you’re smart and everybody’s on the same page and I think we have great staff chemistry, it really helps us in that regard.

Marcus Sherels

Q: Seems like each year everyone gets excited about a new punt returner, but what has Marcus Sherels done to keep staying around?

A: He’s catching the ball better than maybe anyone I’ve been around, except for maybe someone we had with the (New York) Giants, who was also a great punt returner.  It’s one of those things where you trust him catching the ball, and he tracks it and catches it very, very well.  He makes the first guy miss most of the time.  He makes good decisions, even more so last year and the year before.  He’s shown that he should get better in that regard, because that’s what he does.  He’s done it now for two years.  I trust him, our head coach trusts him, our team trusts him. He’s going to make guys miss.  He’s fearless.  For a little man to be that fearless is rare, and so I like having him back there.  He can break the big play, he did it last year in Detroit, and he had a couple others he was close on.  We need to be more consistent. We need to do a better job of blocking for him, and I think he’ll get more yards this year.

Q: Is that punt return competition close at all?

A: It depends. We’ll see in the games.  That’s a good question, but I mean right now after a week of camp I would say he’s the front runner.  I’m always looking for people, because you never know.  Is he going to be there on game day? Is he going to get hurt? Because things happen in a game. I have to have my ducks in a row, and when the head coach says, “who are the guys?”  It’s not only guys that are going to make our football team, but are they healthy? Are the available? Or how much offense or how much defense do they play?  That’s an ongoing thing that keeps me up at night.  Who are the guys, and who’s next in line if I don’t have Marcus back there as our punt returner. 

Q: More than returning what do you appreciate about Marcus Sherels as a special teamer across the board?

A: He does everything the way that we ask him to do it.  He covers kickoffs the way we want him to cover kickoffs at that L1 spot.  He can play gunner.  He’s a good punt returner, he’s a backup kickoff returner.  He could be our kickoff returner, like when he took over after Percy (Harvin) got hurt last year.  There’s so many things that he can do that we trust him about, and we say, “Marcus go do it.”  He’s going to do it the right way.  I know he’s undersized, and I know that he’s not the fastest guy out there, but he’s faster than what most people think.  He’s got great quickness, great intelligence and he’s tough. 

Jeff Locke

Q: What brought the decision to not bring in competition for Jeff Locke this camp?

A: I think Jeff because of his maturity as a young man, the same as Blair (Walsh).  The mental approach to the game that he has is very similar to what Blair had last year.  I thought it was best not only for him being unchallenged, that we trust him and we say let’s go out there it’s your job.  Like I told you last year with Blair there’s 31 other teams, and not everyone has a backup kicker or punter in their camp, but there’s a lot of guys that are in other camps, lot of guys on the street that don’t have jobs right now.  That’s who Jeff (Locke), Blair (Walsh) and Cullen (Loeffler) and a lot of guys on our team are competing against.  They’re competing against the rest of the league, and the people that are free agents on the street.  So the biggest thing about Jeff is even though he’s young, is that he’s very mature, he’s a pro, and he approaches it like a young pro and Cullen (Loeffler) has really helped him in that area, as well as Blair. 

Q: Have you had to tweak Locke’s technique much?

A: A little bit. He needs to speed his ‘get off’ a little bit which he has done. He worked on it all summer and has come back to camp in really good shape. There’s a couple things that he is doing with his approach with how he catches the ball and how he drops the ball. Those are things that are ongoing for any punter no matter what level you are at and how many years you have been in the league. You are always tweaking that stuff and to be quite honest I learned a lot of that stuff when I was with Jeff Feagles when I was fortunate enough to work with him with the Giants. Jeff was such a great technician, that helped me so much and made me become a better coach.

Q: Does Jerome Simpson have a history of returning punts and kicks or is that just something you are trying out?

A: I think that anytime, in fact last year because Jarius Wright was out last year a few games, I can’t remember if he had an injury or not, but we had no back up punt returner. So going into the game you are a little bit nervous, so anytime when I look at guys that have a real good shot at making our team I want to train as many guys as I can either at long snapper, returner, or any other spot at our core of special teams. I think that is just as another option, and he is such a great athlete, and has such great hands. He is not a perfect technician catching the ball, we can get him to the point where we can trust him to be a backup for us.

Q: Did he do any returning at Cincinnati or Coastal Carolina?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Is Colin Anderson going to have a chance to be a backup Long Snapper?

A: Yeah, we have worked with him in the spring, and he has got a lot better. He worked on it this summer on his own. He and Audie Cole would be good options as backups for us and of course Jared Allen, who was drafted in Kansas City many years ago to be a long snapper, and he filled in to long snap a couple years ago in Atlanta when Cullen got hurt.

Q: One of the unheralded third year guys in Andrew Sandejo. What do you appreciate with him?

A: His approach to the game, his incredible work ethic and he is a great study. He is great in the weight room, and he runs hard. He practices hard, and he prepares hard. He is very coachable, tough, smart, and fast. I really like Drew. He has done a nice job along with a lot of our other guys. Like I said earlier, and I know I said it in the spring, I like our roster and I like where we are at. I like how we are building it with the tough, smart, disciplined type football players that we are looking for and the guys that love the game of football. I don’t think that you can play special teams and do what we are asking guys to do if they don’t love the game. We got a lot of guys, Drew is one of them that loves football.

Q: Do some guys need to carve out a niche to play special teams?

A: I think there have been a lot of guys who have done it through the years in this league that have carved out a niche as a special teamer. But I wouldn’t put it past Drew to be a starting safety someday whether it is this day, the next day, or a year after. There are several guys that play really good special teams for us that I am concerned about losing. Not losing totally but losing as a core guys that might only play one or two phases.

Q: Have you always filmed Locke punting?

A: We did that when (Chris) Kluwe was here in terms of the jugs (machine). It is constant work on our holding, and constant work on our catching the ball with the punts, and constant work with the footwork and the drill work. It is muscle memory and repetition. I always compare it to the golfer like I have done before with the kicker and the punter. It is a special thing that you can’t just go out and do it after winging it for a few weeks. It is something that you have to work on constantly to be consistently good at it.