Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer
Another great day in Mankato, great weather, we've been very fortunate. I know the players like the cooler weather, a little warmer today. Looking forward to today's practice and tomorrow night's night practice, I love the atmosphere. When I was with the Kansas City Chiefs, we'd come over here and practice against the Vikings. It was a great atmosphere, these great Vikings fans. This place will be packed. Hopefully have another good night of weather like we've had here the past few years, looking forward to that. Looking forward to continue the evaluation of our players and development of our young players and getting exciting about the preseason game next week.
Q: In what ways are you trying to improve kick coverage upon last year?
A: That's been a focus really since the off-season. When we went back and looked at all of our cut-ups, we were very inconsistent. We had some really good plays and then we had some plays we let the ball out that should have never been out, the good returns. What we've done this year is changed up a couple of drills, changed some personnel around a little bit and really made the focus consistency. Not just with Blair (Walsh) and the kick-offs, but obviously, the whole kickoff team, not with Jeff (Locke) and just the punts, but the entire punt team. We have our work cut out for us. We obviously have a great schedule, very challenging schedule again with the returners we face week in and week out. I'm looking forward to seeing where we're at next week. Obviously, we've got a few more practices until that first game and obviously, that will be to focus, consistency has been the message all off-season.
Q: What is the result of some of these inconsistencies?
A: Probably a little bit of the same. In kickoff we didn't do a good enough job of squeezing, didn't do a good enough job of getting off blocks on the point of attack. On punt, really it was the one punt return against Green Bay. Other than that, I thought we covered punts fairly well, especially the second half of the year I think we gave up an average of maybe five yards a return. It had a lot to do with Jeff getting better and a lot to do with our coverage getting better.
Q: Was it just progress you've made with the Aussie style kick that helped improve those inconsistences?
A: The Aussie style kick is mainly inside the 50, the plus-50 punts we call them. With Jeff being more comfortable, not overthinking things like we talked about last year and him becoming a better punter, allowing our guys more time to get down field to make plays.
Q: With Jeff Locke being more comfortable, are there certain areas you want to hone in on during training camp and focus on improving?
A: Absolutely, one of the things is directional punting. Being that we're going to be in TCF obviously, for our home games and all the outdoor games that we're going to have this year, at the end of the day, if he's a better directional punter, we'll be a better coverage unit. Going bombs away down the middle of the field is not always a great thing, depending on who you play, depending on the area of the field, depending on the returner. But if we can cut the field in half and have punts land on or outside the numbers with still good hang time, still good distance, the productivity, it'll help our coverage immensely.
Q: Have any of these kick returners stuck out to you so far?
A: Obviously, I like Marcus (Sherels) as a kick-off returner. I think Josh Robinson is always an option. Some of the young guys that will get some work will be Kain Colter, Jerick McKinnon has done a nice job for us. I'm excited about some of these young guys and their development as returners. Obviously, you always have to find a backup or two. Some of the kicks that we face too, I don't know if you guys noticed last year, we put a lot of skill guys back because people weren't kicking to Cordarrelle (Patterson). They're spraying the ball all over the place so we're always looking for guys that can go back there and not only catch a kick but get good returns as well.
Q: After a few practices, what are your expectations for Scott Crichton and Jerick McKinnon?
A: Scott Crichton is a big, strong guy. There would be a great spot for him on kickoff as probably as probably a four, on kickoff return as one of our ends, on punt return if we have the right matchup inside, he can block a guard or tackle inside. Jerick McKinnon has really not surprised me because I saw some good things from him in the spring, but I think he's really taken it to heart, as has Scott (Crichton) and has most if not all of the rookies and young guys. He enjoys playing special teams. Sits right up front in our meetings, takes good notes, asks good questions. You can see his development on punt return as a hold-up player, as a punt returner. Kickoff return as an off-half back, we call it, or the returner. Kickoff coverage I've got him running down at the five, he's a very talented young man. Hopefully he's not running the ball a whole lot, obviously, with AP (Adrian Peterson), he's not going to. We expect really good things from him throughout the season.
Q: What are you thoughts with the NFL experimenting with the extra point being at the fifteen-yard line. Does that affect much?
A: I think it'll change as the season wears on, probably not so much in the summer or in the early part of season. Eventually, it's probably going to change. I've kind of accepted that fact. It's going to be tougher for the northern cities that have the wind and the weather because a 33-yard field goal, to me, is still not a chip shot. Even the extra point, I know it's 99%, but it's something they want to change and if they want to do it, we have to embrace it like any other change on special teams. You've got to embrace it and change what we do a little bit and move on.
Q: Do you anticipate that to affect games at TCF Bank Stadium?
A: Later in the year, I hope it affects our opponents more than us but maybe we'll get a couple there. I think any outdoor game, especially late in the year, Green Bay, Chicago, Minnesota, those sort of things.
Q: You've got two weeks to deal with that new rule, and then how are you going to revert back to the standard distance during regular season?
A: It's one of those things. We're still doing field goal protection. It's still, to me, it's a 33-yard field goal from the middle of the field. Do we tweak things? Not really. Just got to get used to not lining up at the two-yard line. We've got to line up at the 15 during the two weeks of pre-season. But we should be okay.
Q: Do you have to worry about unique air patterns at TCF that you are not familiar with yet?
A: We are already familiar with them, spring we sent our guys down there about four times and with Jeff and Blair, I think I told some of you guys back in the spring, with Jeff and Blair they are much smarter than me. They have diagrams and charts, if the wind is coming from here it's going to hit off here and go here, we will probably go directional left here directional right there, our guys are pretty comfortable. Like I told our entire team, we are going to make TCF a home field advantage and take advantage of the winds there and our opponents only have about a half an hour in pregame to figure it out, while we will have months of research and those guys will have it down pat.
Q: Is playing at TCF going to change how and when you practice during the regular season, as the weather gets worse in the Minnesota.
A:* *We will practice outdoors a lot more; we will kick outdoors a lot more, absolutely. We can't punt in our indoor facility; we can kickoff and kick field goals, so we like going outside anyway, unless it's was really bad. Our grounds crew does a great job, Grant (Davisson) does a great job of getting one of the fields cleared off for us, so anytime we need to go outside, we can go outside, but we will practice outside more as the year goes on and go to TCF more. We will send the guys down during the week like we did last year; we would send them to the Metrodome once a week, if we were playing at home. We will do the same thing this year.
Q: What are your expectations for Jeff Locke? He is going into year two, how much better do you think he will be this year?
A:*I think *he is already better, I think he is stronger, he is more efficient, he is not thinking so much, he is not the paralysis by analysis that we talked to him about, but he is much more confident. Like I said earlier, he had an excellent second half of the season and so I am looking for big things from him this year. I'm excited about it.
Q: How many guys that you have do you think could be a core special teamer or are not sure that they are going to make the team?
A:* *It's like that every year, that's a great question. Every year you go into the preseason games not knowing who is going to be on the 53 (final roster spots) of those last six, seven spots of your roster, so I'm probably working 15, 18, 20 guys for those last six or seven spots. Coaching them all the same, trying to motivate them all the same, expecting the same from them, setting high standards for those guys and usually it works itself out. You know you obviously work with the offense, the defense, the head coach, the personnel people, Rick (Speilman) and at the end of the day we have to decide what's best for our football team and the guys that play well and excel on special teams obviously gives them a better shot at making our football team.
Q: Are there some guys that are technically better, but you have to put them lower down on the depth chart because you don't know if he is going to make the team, do you ask for any direction on players statuses as your building through it?
A:* *Absolutely, I talk to the offensive coordinator the defensive coordinator and the head coach and our personnel people all the time. We are always having discussions "Hey, what do you think about this guy, hey this guy." Especially early on in camp when you know we saw everybody in shorts for 15, 18 practices in the spring, and now they are in pads and things change a little bit, some guys shine, some guys aren't playing as well as they did in the spring, so we are always communicating with each other to see what's best for our football team.
Q: Regarding those last few spots, are you able to tip it one way or the other depending on how a guy is on special teams?
A:* *Sometimes, it depends, if it is a position of need, maybe its linebacker, per say, if it's linebacker then I have a little bit of influence there, safety, corner, wide receiver, but at the end of the day it's going to be decided by Rick Spielman, Coach Zimmer, what's best for our football team. I think they do a great job, in the personnel meetings that we have had so far; they do a great job of taking in information from everybody then making the best decision that they see fit.
Q: You said some players have improved now that they have pads on, do you have any names?
A:* *I've always been one of those guys; I don't want to call out anyone in this meeting. I think those guys know who they are. We had a little meeting last night, kickoff, kickoff return meeting. Some guys were not performing at the level we needed them at, and they heard about it, so it's one of those things that, again, I expect big things from a lot of people. A lot of these young guys I don't care how long they've been here. They've been coached; they've been trained for the last several months. If they take their jobs seriously and they're athletic enough they are going to get the job done and then obviously you are going to get to see it in the preseason games. That will be a huge test for our guys as we go forward.
Q: When you are in that room do you think you have an influence on a guy down the line guy?
A: Down the line guy? Absolutely, yeah, you're right and you have to pick and choose your battles too. If I stand on the table, jump on the table for 15 guys, well, who is going to listen to me? But if there is three or four guys that I truly believe that need to make our team better to make our special teams, those are the guys I will battle for.
Q: Jared Allen was the emergency long snapper in the past, if Cullen Loeffler goes down, who is going to fill his shoes?
A: Right now it would be Audie Cole, but we are working some young guys in the preseason. We might have Tyler Scott has done a nice job, Jake Snyder has done a nice job, Audie can do it, Mike Mauti can do it, so I'm working on it. As soon as Jared (Allen) left the building I started going "Okay, who is going to be our guy?"
Q: How are you working Anthony Barr into the special teams?
A: Because so much will be thrown on his plate defensively, right now, I am focusing on him helping our punt team and being a backup on a lot of our other different areas. You know when you go to the game there is 46 players on the field, you only have so many backups. To make it fair for him, if we ask him to cover kickoff I have to train him there, kickoff return I have got to train him, punt return I have got to train him. On punt, more than likely he will be one of the guys running down for us, and that will be a great spot for him.
Q: Can you talk a little about the qualities of Kain Colter?
A: I think he has gotten better every day that he has been here. He has a great attitude, he is very intelligent, he's been a quarterback, so he understands the game, and he's tough you know you don't know how tough he is until you put the pads on. I think he has some toughness but mentally and physically. He has the ability to return kicks and the ability to play in the coverage phases as well.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards
We are pleased with where we are right now. I know that personnel-wise, you guys have questions about where we are at with certain positions and those kind of things, but we still really are competing and working every day, trying different guys in different spots, and kind of settling in as we go into this first ball game as far as the first evaluation of our first preseason game.
Q: How rare is it to find a guy that is Anthony Barr's size with his skill set? Is that exciting to play with?
A: There is no doubt. It is just like we saw him in college. There is a guy, with the skill set that he had, to be able to run in the open field, to be able to rush off of the edge, and to be able to stack and chase the ball. We are excited with where he is right now. He seems to be doing a good job of retaining what it is we are asking him to do and transferring it out of the classroom to the practice field. We are seeing a lot of the flashes that you saw when we evaluated him coming out. * *
Q: Can he make an impact right away?
A: We are open to it. We still have a lot of camp to go, and we still have some preseason games to go, so from that aspect of it what you see is what you get. So from that aspect we think we will and we are excited about where we are at right now.
Q: What has Jabari Price's progress been like?
A: Any time we have had injuries, like with Captain [Munnerlyn] being out at that position, his reps really increased over the first part of camp, and he really made the most out of that opportunity. That is the way during the season – if somebody goes down, the next man is up. You have got to come in, you have to be prepared, and you have to be ready. Jerry Gray has done an excellent job of getting him prepared for it. It is not a position that he played a lot in the offseason, but he came in and we prepared him over the break. He came in and paid attention to the details of the position. He has gotten himself in a good position to get out there everyday at the position.
Q: For the late picks, is there a line between being tentative or trying to work your way in?
A: With the evaluation process, we try to look for certain traits in players. He had a lot of traits that we are looking for, as far as he competes and as far as the ability to run and make plays and speed and those kinds of things. He has come in and taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and made the most of his opportunities thus far.
Q: Do the injuries help you get a look at other people?
A: Yes, there is no doubt that it helps us look at other people. That is what we try to express upon everybody. There are only so many reps to go around. When something happens, again, the next guy up has to be prepared to step in and be able to play that role. For us to be successful as a whole, we have to count on guys to be able to play those multiple roles. You ask all of the time, "Why do we not have this guy at this position, and that guy at that position?" So we allocate through this evaluation process and that is the reason why. During the course of the season, there are injuries, there are guys that have to miss, and certain things like that, so we try to introduce them to different jobs as we go throughout this process.
Q: In terms of installations, does this complicate things this early?
A: No, not really. We have pretty much kept installations what it is and we kind of move forward. Throughout camp, we will still be installing. From that aspect of it we do not think that it will slow us down from there. Now, when guys come back, they are going to be expected to know the same things. It is a little tougher when you have not been out there taking the reps at it, but from that aspect we expect them to be in tune mentally with the calls and the checks, the keys, the leads and the fundamentals of each position.
Q: Is Saturday night's practice a scrimmage or a practice?
A: I think that it will be more like what it was the other day. We will have some situations in there and we will work situational football, but I think that it will be more controlled rather than a just straight-out scrimmage.
Q: You have had a couple of guys rotating through the safety position. Is it comforting to have Harrison Smith there to stabilize?
A: He really has been. He's a true pro. He comes to work every day, prepares off the field, does all of the things off and on the field that you are looking for out of a safety. He does a good job of communicating. He is another one that is a force out there with it. From that aspect of it it has been a blessing to have him out there and him take the bull by the horn, so to speak, and take charge of what is happening out there secondary communication-wise. He has been the one position that has been pretty solid as far as him being there every day.
Q: Are you still learning about what Harrison Smith can do?
A: That is why we are going through this the way that we are here in training camp. We are looking at the different skill sets and different players, and trying to put them in the most advantageous position to help us. From that aspect of it he does a little bit of everything pretty well for us; he is a good blitzer, he is good playing in the middle of the field, he is good down in the box. From that aspect of it his attention to detail and what he brings to the table should pan out well for us.
Q: What do you think about Scott Crichton so far?
A: He has done a good job of coming in. Missing the whole off-season, I think he has come in, he's retained some of the things that we taught him at minicamp. It is a critical point right now for him because now he is getting a lot more reps, so all we are asking him to do is go out, get better each day, and make sure that he can handle his alignments and assignments, and the different techniques that we are working. I tell you, he is a hard worker, and so we are excited with where he is. As we get this evaluation process in the first ball game on down through the preseason, we are just looking for him to continually get better as we keep going down the road.
Q: What do you think about Marcus Sherels and what do you like about him?A: He is a very tough, competitive player out there. I know that he is an undersized cornerback but he does a good job of doing the things that we are asking him to do, whether it is an assignment, alignment, technique, or fundamentals. There are a lot of times you look out there, when you turn on the tape, and if you were making a cut up of how exactly we want it done, he is the guy out there doing it right. From that aspect of it we are pleased with where he is and we are just looking for him to keep getting better.
Q: How has Gerald Hodges been doing on this team?
A: Gerald has done good. We have moved him around from Will to Sam, which, anytime that you are not locked into one position, is tough. From that aspect of it he has handled it very, very well. We like his skill set. He is coming out here to compete. The big thing is just making sure alignment and assignment wise, is that when you switch positions, it changes a little bit as far as your familiarity with the position. We are working on keeping him consistent, day in and day out. Yesterday, he had a really good practice and started picking up, so we are excited about where he is. We just have to keep moving down that road for consistency. He's the guy– he will come to work every day and those kind of things, and his attention to detail is picked up the last 24 hours, and yesterday. I thought he had a good practice.
Q: How do you and Mike [Zimmer] coordinate coaching duties?
A: Like I said before, we are all in this together. We are going to work together and do what is best for our players. Anything that comes up we talk about it. It is not something that is shot from the hip. We have talked about it and we have worked through it. It is just a matter of however we see fit from drill to drill. From that aspect of it we need to get things done and we get it done.
Q: Are you looking at one thing in general with linebackers? Or specific parts of the offense?
A: I am looking in general. You know where the breakdowns are just schematically where you are from. Anytime that there is a breakdown, we make sure that we get that coached up with the player that is in that position. We are really just trying to coach everybody. I understand the big picture of everything, rather than just what my job is. We are really looking at the whole thing systematically.
Q: Is there a coordinated way to have your eyes on different areas?
A: We are all kind of creatures of habit. Before Mike [Zimmer] became a defensive coordinator and now a head coach, he always coached in the secondary. For me, I have always pretty much coached the linebackers. Sometimes, you kind of gravitate sometimes to the position that you worked at, but we really are looking at the overall scheme of things.
Q: You are always standing behind the offensive, behind the line of scrimmage. Is that where you get the best perspective?
A: I have always stood behind to look at it forward. To be honest, I am not very good at getting out of the middle of the field when people start running up on you. I have always stood behind and out of the way. I have seen a couple of defensive back coaches get run over back there, and I would probably be one of those guys if I was standing back there.
Q: What have you seen from your safety position with Robert Blanton out?
A: Sort of the same thing. He has an opportunity now to take a few reps with the first group. He stepped in for the last couple of days, and he has done a good job with the communication. It is a good opportunity for him, it is a good opportunity for us to get him evaluated in there with the first group matching him up with different skill sets in the first group. He has done well and we are just looking to keep getting better as we keep moving down the road with it.
Q: It seems like a tough break for Robert Blanton?
A: It was, and it is anytime a player gets hurt. I hate to see anyone get hurt or injured. Right now, I know that he is with the trainers. They are working with him diligently every day to get him back, but as far as knowing the time frame and that stuff. I have no idea. Check with (Mike Zimmer), I have no idea.
Q: I haven't seen Josh Robinson too much in the past 48 hours. Is there an update you can give us on that?
A: Again, I do not have an update on injuries. Coach Zimmer is the one to talk about injuries. The situation there is that he is not out there right now, so it is what it is.