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NOTEBOOK: Vikings, McKinnon to Stay Aggressive on Kickoff Returns

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings have had solid success on kickoff returns since Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer arrived in Minnesota in 2011.

The Vikings have seven kickoff returns for scores over the six-year span, and have established themselves as a weekly threat to take a kick back for a touchdown.

Priefer said Friday that Minnesota's mindset won't change in 2017, even as the Vikings break in Jerick McKinnon as the team's new kickoff returner.

The Vikings, Priefer said, will continue to push the envelope.

"We did that with Percy Harvin. We did that with Cordarrelle [Patterson]," Priefer said. "We do a good job with our schemes, but more importantly we do a good job with the guys that are out there.

"I think Jerick [McKinnon] showed that he's a very explosive returner, so we'll continue to be aggressive," Priefer said. 

That mindset was evident in Minnesota's third preseason game against San Francisco.

McKinnon had just one opportunity to return a kickoff as the others sailed out of bounds. But the Vikings running back took advantage of his only chance, going 108 yards for a dazzling score.

Priefer said he likes the versatility McKinnon brings to the position.

"He's a tough guy, so I know he's going to hit the seam where he needs to hit it. He's got great vision," Priefer said. "He probably has better vision than most of the other guys that I coach there because he's got that running back mentality. 

"Those guys have a different type vision with all the drill work that they do, with all the running plays that they run between the tackles, outside the tackles, what hole to hit and that sort of thing," Priefer added. "I think that's going to be a huge benefit for him." 

Added Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer: "He's kind of a stocky-framed guy, but has a low center of gravity and can accelerate and hit the hole quickly. He can see some things like a running back does. I think he's always been a really good open-field guy." 

McKinnon has one career kickoff return for 24 yards in his regular-season career.

"I'm excited to get out there Monday and fly around," McKinnon said. "I'm comfortable with anything. I'm ready."

The Parcells family tree

It's not uncommon for Zimmer to have a connection to an opposing head coach, but the one with Saints Head Coach Sean Payton is that they worked together for three seasons (2003-05) on Bill Parcells' staff in Dallas.

Zimmer and Payton remain connected to the Hall of Famer, whom they each reach out to for mentorship.

Zimmer said he can see some of the influence of Parcells in Payton, saying, "I know he talks to him a lot. I talk to him a lot."

"[Payton] knows me pretty good. I know him pretty good," Zimmer said. "Sean has always been a great offensive coach. He does a great job. They've got unbelievable skill weapons. He does a good job and is hard to defend." 

Payton told Twin Cities media members this week that Zimmer is "a close friend, and I've got a ton of respect for him."

"We were together for a period of time in Dallas, three years," Payton said. "Our families were close. I think to see the success he's had, and we've always stayed in touch, you kind of follow each other, and he's done a great job there.

"His team plays with tremendous discipline," Payton added. "You can see it when you look at all the traits – penalties, they're a smart football team. Both of us had the good fortune later in our careers to work with Bill Parcells, and I know that for both of us, we still lean on him on a regular basis."

Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer was a defensive assistant on Payton's staff in New Orleans from 2006-08 and assistant defensive backs coach in 2009 when New Orleans won Super Bowl XLIV.

Zimmer recalls memories of Moss

Former Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss will be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime Monday night. 

Perhaps the most signature game of Moss' rookie season came against Dallas on Thanksgiving Day in 1998, as he had three catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns.

Zimmer was the Cowboys defensive backs coach that day, and spoke about going up against Moss after Friday's practice.

"I remember on the scout team, we lined up receivers two yards offsides every time we played against him because he was going to get on us so fast," Zimmer said. "That was one of the things. Basically, most every coverage was dedicated to him, and he still had great games.

"He could run by you, was bigger, faster, had change of direction, great hands," Zimmer later added. "He really could do it all."

Zimmer gave expanded thoughts to Vikings.com earlier this year on Moss. Zimmer was one of 20 perspectives in a recent series called Moss Memories that looked at the career of the wide receiver.

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