Vikings Special Team Coordinator Mike Priefer
Q: How does Devin Hester compare to other guys you’ve prepared for?
A: Ranks number one. There’s no one even close. He’s in an elite class, he’s in a class by himself because of what he’s done in his past. People have asked me this week, even during the offseason, ‘Has he slowed down a bit?’ I don’t think so. I think he’s just as dangerous as he’s ever been.
Q: What makes him so dangerous?
A: Speed, elusiveness, on punt returns he can always make the first guy miss. He’s got better vision than any returner I’ve ever had to prepare for. He can see things long before they happen and he can set things up and set up the coverage team and he can see what’s going to happen before anyone else can. He’s unique and very rare in that instance.
Q: You have a challenge trying to get a new punter prepared for him. What do you tell
A: I told Jeff this week, so far he had a great day yesterday. He got some confidence back which is good and that’s what he needed. I think he was a bit nervous on Sunday. Even though we were indoors, I think it was just under the lights in the NFL for the first time. I’m not making excuses for him, nor would I, and he wouldn’t do that himself. When you prepare for a great returner like Devin [Hester], and you have to prepare for an outdoor game, I’m glad it’s not in December or November. I think you just have to go back to what’s made you a good punter. His fundamentals, his leg strength, believing in his drop and believing in his leg swing, and that’s what we emphasized to him this week.
Q: He said he thought his steps were off, is that your analysis?
A: They were, absolutely. I saw it during the game and I think it was too late to fix it at that point. We could try to fix it and we could try to tweak it, but that’s what I noticed and I told him basically to go back to what he was doing in pregame and he struggled a bit obviously.
Q: Do you think that he was rushing a little bit?
A: Probably, trying to rush it a little bit. The protection was okay, could be a little bit better. We have to improve there as well. It’s a whole process for our punt team. The good thing is, and I told him during the game and after the game when we watched the tape together, was that our coverage team covered very, very well. I was excited about that. These guys are going to cover, they’re going to play hard and he needs to help us out so we can help our defensive field position. We did not do that on Sunday.
Q: Has your opinion changed about guys coming out on returns?
A: Has my opinion changed from last year? Not really. It depends who your returner is back there. I think Devin [Hester] is going to bring every one of them he can out and I’d like to think we would too. Depending on the game situation we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to get after folks and hopefully do what we do.
A: No and you know what, that’s a great question because on the sideline after the what, five in a row were touchbacks, I was waiting for him to get frustrated. I had my little ‘don’t be frustrated’ talk ready and I didn’t have to use it because he was locked in and he was ready to roll. He just knew that when he gets his opportunities he needs to be ready for them.
Q: Are you very comfortable with him 8, 9 yards deep just bringing it out?
A: Depending on the hang time, if it’s there. Depending on the situation, we’re not just going to do it just to do it. We’re not about stats, we’re about field position and helping our team win games and that’s what it’s all about. We feel that a guy like him, because he is a game changer in our opinion and that’s one of the reasons why we drafted him, that he’s a pretty special guy so hopefully we get him some more opportunities this week.
Q: In most instances, would you just tell Jeff Locke out of bounds, don’t even let Devin Hester get it?
A: Again, depending on the game situation and depending how he’s hitting the ball, I think, I don’t know what the Detroit punter was told but he struggled a bit probably trying to put it in the corner type thing. The ball went out of bounds at 22 yards and 29 yards and I think that’s what can happen with a lot of young punters. If you tell them, ‘I want it out of bounds, it’s Devin Hester’, next thing you know it goes 22 yards and you don’t want that either. So there’s a fine line between how much coaching you do in terms of how much direction you want to use. To me if it’s high and it’s good hang time and decent distance, we should be okay.
Q: How is Jeff Locke with direction?
A: You know what, that’s one of the things we really liked about him coming out of UCLA. He was a very good directional punter and I think it’s a work in progress right now. It’s a little bit easier to directional kick in college because the hashes are so far over towards the sideline compared to the NFL. He’s going to continue to work on it and I think we need to make that a weapon for us when we’re at home.
Q: All the touchbacks that you’re seeing, does it put more of a premium on when you do get that one opportunity that just hangs in there to try to make the most of it?
A: Yeah, you try not to think of it that way but I think it boils down to it. We may not get many opportunities, Robbie Gould had five touchbacks a week ago, he’s five for five. We’re going to prepare and plan like we always do, that we’re going to get some opportunities and if they arise, if they come up then great. If not, then you can’t be frustrated, that’s the NFL, that’s the way the League has changed limiting the amount of kickoff returns. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.