In the days leading up to 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, vikings.com will take a position-by-position preview of the roster.
Several Vikings special teamers were standouts in 2013, and they figure to shine even brighter in 2014 with another year of experience under their belt. There are several special teams phases, of course, and many players who provide valuable contributions to these phases but don't fill up a stat sheet or box score. That's part of the thankless nature of this side of the ball.
There are some special teams players who find their way into the spotlight, though. Below is a list of Vikings special teamers who figure to make a profound impact on games during the 2014 season.
P Jeff Locke: He came on strong at the end of his rookie campaign his 2013. This season, the goal will surely be to start strong and keep playing at a high level. Last year, Locke avoided touchbacks wonderfully, with just three punts bounding into the end zone on 75 punts. But Locke could also stand to improve his punts inside the opponents' 20 output – he had 23 last year, tied for fifth-fewest. Overall, Locke had a good season in 2013 and he is poised for a better 2014 run.
KR Cordarrelle Patterson:Yes, Patterson figures to be more involved in the offense this season. But that doesn't mean his role as the Vikings kickoff returner will diminish. Patterson led the NFL in kickoff return average and touchdowns last season, and it won't be surprising to see the Vikings put him in position to lead the League in both categories once again this season. Patterson has the speed and lateral agility to run circles around coverage units, but if you ask Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, he will tell you it's also Patterson's vision and anticipation that are dangerous and are perhaps more key than his movement skills.
PR Marcus Sherels:Sherels officially made the transition from the "safe, sure-handed returner" tag to the "dangerous, big-play potential returner" tag in 2013. He returned yet another punt for a touchdown, giving him two for his career (tying a franchise record), and he was the NFL's second-leading punt returner, with an average of 15.2 yards per return. Five of Sherels' 22 returns in 2013 were for 20 yards. He also had 27 fair catches, and it won't be surprising to see Sherels reduce that number during the 2014 season.
K Blair Walsh:When combining field goals and kickoff responsibilities, one can make the argument that there is no better kicker in the NFL than Walsh. He converted on his first two field goal tries of 50 yards in 2013, running his consecutive field goals of 50 yards made total up to 12, a new NFL record. Walsh is also a touchback machine on kickoffs and he's been nearly automatic on field goals of under 50 yards. Can he improve? Absolutely. Walsh would be the first to acknowledge that. But after catching some grief for using a draft pick on a kicker in 2012, the Vikings now look to have spent that pick wisely on Walsh.
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