2018 Vikings Position Recap: Special Teams

EAGAN, Minn. – The Viking special teams had an up-and-down season but saw an upswing of performance, particularly in the return game, throughout the second half of the season.

Through the first nine games of the 2018 campaign, the Vikings averaged just 8.5 yards per punt return. After the bye, however, they improved to 14.7 yards per return to finish the season with an average of 10.9, which ranked sixth in the NFL.

Marcus Sherels, in his ninth season in Purple, once again was a reliable returner for the Vikings but missed four games due to injury, during which Mike Hughes and Brandon Zylstra each were called upon.

Minnesota’s kick return game also improved, although the difference was less dramatic. After averaging 23.5 yards per return before the bye, the Vikings averaged 25.8 yards down the stretch.

The Vikings made progress after signing running back Ameer Abdullah, who was released by the division-rival Lions. Abdullah returned 10 kickoffs for 258 yards.

On coverage teams, third-year safety Jayron Kearse led the Vikings in special teams tackles with 17 (13 solo), according to team stats.

The Vikings kicking game got off to a rocky start when rookie Daniel Carlson, whom Minnesota selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, missed three field goal attempts – including two in overtime – at Green Bay in Week 2. The contest ended in a tie, and the Vikings announced the next day that Carlson had been released.

Minnesota signed veteran kicker Dan Bailey, who had spent the first seven seasons of his NFL career with the Cowboys. Bailey was nearly perfect on PATs (30-for-31) but missed seven of 28 field goal attempts over his 14 games in Minnesota.

The Vikings also went with a fresh face at punter, releasing Ryan Quigley during the preseason and signing Matt Wile after his release from the Steelers.

Wile punted 72 times for Minnesota. His gross average of 45.2 yards per punt ranked 15th in the NFL, while his net average of 41.5 yards ranked 10th.

Notable Number

5 in 6 — Sherels has ranked in the top 10 in punt return average in five of the past six seasons. The native of Rochester, Minnesota, ranked fifth in 2018 with 12.0 yards per punt return. He ranked seventh in 2017 (9.5), second in 2016 (13.9), sixth in 2014 (11.0) and second in 2013 (15.2). His 9.1 yards per return in 2015 placed him 12th in the league.

Memorable Moment

When the Vikings needed a momentum swing against the Dolphins in Week 15, Sherels helped make it happen.

Five minutes into the third quarter and with the Vikings clinging to a four-point lead, the Sherels backpedaled, hauled in Matt Haack’s punt and was off to the races.

Sherels caught the ball at the 9, curled toward the right sideline and sprinted ahead. He dipped and dodged, cutting in and back near the Vikings 45 and making Dolphins miss. He darted back inside at the Miami 35 and came oh-so close to making it all the way before he was tripped.

The 70-yard return flipped the field position for Minnesota and set up a drive that was capped with a field goal by Bailey to extend the Vikings lead to seven in an eventual 41-17 victory.

Regular-Season Statistics

K Dan Bailey

93 points, 21-for-28 field goals (75 percent), 30-for-31 extra points (96.8 percent)

20-29 yards: 5-for-6 (83.3 percent)

30-39 yards: 11-for-11 (100 percent)

40-49 yards: 4-for-9 (44.4 percent)

50-plus yards: 1-for-2 (50 percent)

K Daniel Carlson

9 points, 1-for-4 field goals (25 percent), 6-for-6 extra points (100 percent)

20-29 yards: none attempted

30-39 yards: 0-for-1

40-49 yards: 1-for-3

50-plus yards: none attempted

P Matt Wile

72 punts, 3,255 gross yards, 45.2 yards per punt, 41.5 net average, 27 punts inside 20-yard line, long of 70, two touchbacks, one blocked punt

LS Kevin McDermott

16 games

KR Ameer Abdullah

10 returns, 258 yards, 25.8 yards per return, long of 33

KR Mike Hughes

Four returns, 107 yards, 26.8 yards per return, long of 46

KR Holton Hill

Three returns, 85 yards, 28.3 yards per return, long of 30

KR Marcus Sherels

Two returns, 34 yards, 17 yards per return, long of 17

KR Aldrick Robinson

One return, 21 yards

KR Brandon Zylstra

One return, 15 yards

KR Roc Thomas

One return, 20 yards

PR Marcus Sherels

23 returns, 276 yards, 12 yards per return, long of 70

PR Brandon Zylstra

Four returns, 26 yards, 6.5 yards per return, long of nine

PR Mike Hughes

Two returns, 13 yards, 6.5 yards per return, long of 13

Coverage teams

Jayron Kearse

17 special teams tackles (13 solo)

Ben Gedeon

13 special teams tackles (eight solo)

Kentrell Brothers

Nine special teams tackles (eight solo)

Eric Wilson

Nine special teams tackles (eight solo)

C.J. Ham

Seven special teams tackles (three solo)

Anthony Harris

Six special teams tackles (five solo)

George Iloka

Six special teams tackles (five solo)

Roc Thomas

Five special teams (three solo)

Devante Downs

Four special teams tackles (two solo)

Holton Hill

Three special teams tackles (three solo)

Stephen Weatherly

Two special teams tackles (one solo)

Brandon Zylstra

Two special teams tackles (one solo)

(Note: All tackles are according to team stats)

2 Highest highs

1. With the game tied at 10 at U.S. Bank Stadium, Bailey gave Minnesota a lead it didn’t look back from.

Against the Cardinals in Week 6, Bailey was called upon when the Vikings offensive drive was stalled. He knocked through a 48-yard field goal with just seven seconds remaining in the second quarter, allowing Minnesota to enter halftime with the advantage.

The Vikings pulled away in the second half and defeated Arizona 27-17, thanks in part to Bailey’s two field goals (he made a 37-yarder in the first quarter).

2. One of Wile’s better games came against the Jets, when he punted a career-high eight times for 382 yards, averaging 47.8 yards per boot.

Of the eight, Wile dropped a career-high four inside the 20, giving New York less-than-favorable field position and helping Minnesota walk away with a 37-17 Week 7 win.

2 Lowest lows

1. Carlson’s trio of missed field goals at Green Bay was certainly a special teams low point for the Vikings, who were forced to settle for a tie against their division rival.

Carlson missed a 48-yarder during regulation but then had two shots at redemption in overtime. The rookie missed a 49-yarder on Minnesota’s first overtime series, so the Packers took over on offense but were contained by the Vikings defense.

Minnesota started its second overtime drive on its own 20 and drove down the field but was unable to get in the end zone. Carlson had a chance to win the game with a 35-yard field goal, but it was no good.

The game ended 29-all, and the Vikings started their season 1-0-1.

2. Another low point of the season also occurred at Green Bay when the Packers first score came compliments of a special teams blunder.

Midway through the first quarter, Wile’s punt was blocked by Geronimo Allison and recovered by Josh Jackson in the end zone for a touchdown, giving Green Bay a 7-0 lead.

Quotes

“He’s a consummate professional. He comes in, he’s always one of the first guys in here, he likes the same routine. He’s really taught me that you’ve got to fall in love with the process. He does the same things every day – it gets monotonous at times, you’d think it gets boring to him, but he really loves it. You can tell he loves doing the same thing – getting in the hot tub at the same time, doing the same stretches, and you see it working out for him.”

— Abdullah on learning from Sherels

“Definitely the last month, as a unit, the whole operation on field goal, I thought we were jelling and working well. I think it was definitely trending upwards. There’s definitely a few kicks that I’d certainly like to have back, but overall, coming into the situation the way it was, there’s definitely a lot of positives to take away from it, learn from the negatives and the positives, that’s what this offseason is going to be.”

— Bailey reflecting on his first season in Minnesota

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