The NFL preseason gives young players a chance to get their feet wet in the pros and make a case for sliding into their team's final 53-man roster.
Minnesota has one preseason contest down and will kick off its second tonight against the Seahawks.
In a notebook compiled by various NFL.com reporters, Tom Pelissero noted that Vikings rookies have been "on a roll" throughout training camp and last week's game against the Bills. Pelissero pointed out that the Vikings ranked last in the league in 2016 for rookie production, with their first-year players accounting for 347 snaps on offense and defense. Pelissero wrote:
Look for that to change in 2017, and not just because this year's top pick, running back Dalvin Cook (Round 2, No. 41 overall), appears primed for immediate impact.
When I asked Vikings [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer this week what has him excited about this team, he mentioned [Dalvin] Cook ("At times, when he has some space to run in, it's like, 'This guy's different,' " Zimmer told me) as well as three other rookies: offensive linemen Pat Elflein (drafted in the third round) and Danny Isidora (fifth) and linebacker Ben Gedeon (fourth).
Rookie receivers Stacy Coley and Rodney Adams also made some impressive plays in their pro debut at Buffalo.
Sherels' secret: Do little things 'better than everybody else'
The Vikings have been trying out a handful of players at punt returner and kick returner throughout training camp.
One reliable name they have, though, is Marcus Sherels.
Sherels, a Minnesota native, defied all odds by making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He's hung around ever since, mastering his performance on special teams. He holds the records for most career punt return touchdowns (five) and punt returns of 50-plus yards (seven).
Mark Craig of the *Star Tribune *wrote that Sherels "also is an elite coverage guy on kickoffs – as an outside safety – and on punt returns as one of the gunners."
Craig also pointed out that Sherels' longevity is even more unexpected when you realize he's tied for the smallest player on the team – he and cornerback Sam Brown each weigh in at 175 pounds. Craig wrote:
Watching the smaller Sherels work as a gunner is interesting. It defies playground logic. The shorter, lighter guy with the shorter arms isn't supposed to be able to escape when he's being blocked by two bigger, heavier guys with longer arms.
Craig spoke with Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, who described Sherels as being "phenomenally quick" as a gunner. Priefer said that Sherels is a "film junkie" and that the two of them have built a relationship over the past seven years that helps them game plan well together.
Sherels said he does study a lot of film of opponents' moves, but added, 'everybody does that.'
"You can't show a guy the same move every time," Sherels told Craig. "Every time, it's a little bit different. That's why we scout. That's why we watch a lot of film."
Priefer said that opposing players outsize Sherels, but Sherels' technique outdoes theirs.
"His pad levels are perfect, how he leans and stacks the corner on punt return when he's the gunner … all those little things, he just does better than everybody else," Priefer told Craig. "And that's how he's able to be successful."
Stacy Coley 2nd-highest graded NFC North WR in Preseason 1
Vikings wide receiver Stacy Coley impressed in his NFL debut.
The rookie led Minnesota with 67 yards on three catches, averaging 22.3 yards per reception.
Coley was also noticed by analytics site Pro Football Focus, which included Coley on its list of highest-graded NFC North receivers during their first preseason contests. Coley was given a grade of 80.6, coming in second behind Lions receiver Kenny Golladay (85.8).
Detroit's Keyshawn Martin (78.3) and Chicago's Deonte Thompson (77.3) came in at third and fourth, respectively.