EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings kicked back and added a running back last week during their bye.
In addition to Ameer Abdullah’s experience on offense (1,251 rushing yards, 420 receiving yards and nine touchdowns), he also performed well as a kickoff returner for the Lions. The former Nebraska star led the NFL with 1,077 yards on 37 kickoff returns as a rookie in 2015.
The Vikings have had six different players return at least one kickoff this season.
With first-round pick Mike Hughes (four returns for 107 yards) out for the year, rookie Holton Hill is next with three returns for 85 yards. Hill, however, has been worked into the lineup on defense more frequently when Xavier Rhodes has been injured.
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer was asked Thursday if Abdullah has entered the mix as a kickoff returner and said “absolutely” before pointing out factors that may affect that status.
“He could be the guy. We have to wait and see if he’s going to be active or not; obviously that’s up to [Head Coach Mike] Zimmer and what he wants to do with the roster, but if we have his services available, I would like to use him as a kickoff returner.
“I know he’ll fit right into what we want at that position, and the big thing for Ameer is obviously ball security, and we’re going to continue to preach that to him,” Priefer added. “That’s been one of the issues he’s had in the past, and I don’t think it’s been a major issue for him, but like any young returner, and to me he’s still a young returner – you’ve got to emphasize how important that ball security is.”
Priefer said Abdullah was rated as the Vikings top kickoff returner before the 2015 NFL Draft.
“The thing that Ameer does, he’s got what I like to call – you guys have heard me say it before, ‘running back vision,’ ” Priefer said. “I mean he’s a running back that has that type of vision as a returner. Not every returner has that. I think the good ones do, and the ones that are so-so don’t have it because they can’t foresee what’s coming. They can’t see it, and I think Ameer has that ability, and he’s got quickness and he’s got strength.
“He has the ability to hit the seams, he’s got courage, and I think you’ve got to be a tough guy to hit those seams that are going to be there, hopefully they’re there, but they’re going to close up pretty quick,” Priefer continued. “He has the ability to hit those seams before they close up. I think he brings a lot to the table at that position.”
Priefer said Vikings Vice President of Player Personnel/Assistant General Manager George Paton revisited Priefer’s pre-draft assessment before speaking with him last week.
“He brings a lot to the table as an athlete,” Priefer said. “We might use him on other phases for that matter. If he’s your third running back, you need him on other special teams which he has not done, that’s where the training part comes in more so than as kickoff returner, but being on the punt return unit, being on the kickoff [coverage] unit, being on the punt [coverage] team unit. We’re already training him as a gunner. He had one rep in Detroit. It didn’t look very good, but I don’t know how much experience he had prior to that in terms of practicing and meeting time with him. We’re going to keep working with him. You don’t take an athlete like that and just have him stand next to me on the sideline. You want him out there as much as possible.”
Here are other topics addressed by Priefer, Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo.
Priefer on containing Bears punt returner Tarik Cohen:
During his opening statement, Priefer said the threat of Cohen at punt returner “has kept me up the last two weeks.”
“I’ve had him in my brain for a couple weeks,” Priefer said. “Great punt returner, probably the best one we face this year. We’ve got to protect, we’ve got to get off blocks. Our gunner has got to show up. We’ve got to go make a bunch of plays against this fine young returner.”
Cohen, a fourth-round pick in 2017, ranks second in the NFL with an average of 12.6 yards per punt return and has a long of 42 this season.
The Vikings contained the league leader, Andre Roberts, in Week 7 against the Jets. Roberts is averaging 16.8 yards per return and has a 78-yard touchdown to his credit but totaled just 8 yards on two returns and fair caught three other punts against the Vikings.
Edwards on bottling up Cohen:
Cohen has added 244 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 56 attempts and leads the Bears with 435 receiving yards on 37 receptions. He also has three scores through the air.
Edwards said new Bears coaches have changed schemes from last year’s offense but are still capitalizing on Cohen’s skill set of making plays in space. Cohen, Edwards said, has the toughness to run between the tackles and good vision.
“He’s going to be a receiver now, he can be a tailback where he’s back there getting the handoff. In empty he’s out there isolated 1-on-1. You’ve definitely got to do a good job of the matchups and be careful with what you’re asking them to do. This team is going to come in with new formations and new personnel groups, some different formations.”
Edwards on the apparent depth of Chicago’s playbook:
Zimmer jokingly suggested that Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy has 800 plays to pick from.
“It seems like it when you start looking at it,” Edwards said. “They have a different game plan probably for each team, as far as how they match up defensively. They’re also going to add new concepts to what they do from week to week off of what they think could isolate you in the coverages and those types of deals.
“Nagy has brought in a lot of good concepts, whether it’s in the passing game or in the running game,” he continued. “The big thing for us is it’s more about us getting lined up and being able to execute our defensive call and knowing what’s coming at us, and then also during the course of the game, which our guys have done a good job of being able to adjust if there’s something new.”
DeFilippo on self-scouting the Vikings did during the bye:
Kirk Cousins mentioned on Wednesday that the Vikings used the bye week self-scouting opportunity to take a look at first downs in the red zone and plays of third-and-4-to-6 yards as situations where the team could improve.
DeFilippo said the time to focus on those aspects was beneficial.
“It is very helpful that Coach [Mike] Zimmer allowed us to really look at those numbers,” DeFilippo said. “Over the bye week, we really adjusted our practice schedule to accompany that. We got down in the red zone a lot. We had a third-and-4-to-6 period. It was great for Coach to allow us to be able to get better in those areas, and we do need to get better in those areas along with a few others.”
DeFilippo on finding success in red zone:
The Vikings are tied for 18th in red zone offense, having scored 15 touchdowns on 27 trips inside an opponent’s 20-yard line (55.6 percent) The Bears rank 12th with a touchdown rate of 65.6 percent (21 touchdowns on 32 trips).
“The best red zone teams in the NFL have two things in common,” DeFilippo said. “Number one, they can run the football down there inside the 10. Number two, they throw the ball in the end zone. It’s not a dink and dunk. I am talking about even from the 20 in. So they throw the ball in the end zone.
“There are certain things and certain ways to throw the ball in the end zone, in the red zone. A lot of it is personnel driven,” DeFilippo said. “What I mean by that is there is going to be an extra player in there. When you watch teams run the ball in the red zone, it is usually the back runs somebody over, the back makes somebody miss. There is going to be an extra guy there. The backs know that, and they have to be able to have that collision at the goal line. I think you are seeing that with us with Latavius [Murray] this year. Either that or make them miss. You just have to know that extra player is going to be there.”