*EAGAN, Minn. — *Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer on Wednesday said he was “very honored to be a part” of the committee that met in New York with NFL leadership to iron out a new kickoff rule for 2018.
The new rule was passed last week by NFL Owners at the Annual Spring Meeting.
Priefer said he believes the changes will add safety measures and keep what coaches believe are important plays in the game.
“I thought the owners were great,” Priefer said. “I thought [Falcons President and CEO] Rich McKay, head of the competition committee, did a great job. [NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Troy Vincent did a great job. They were willing to listen.
“We had some really good ideas. We had been working on that for about five or six weeks to get that proposal in,” Priefer continued. “Pretty much everything in our proposal is what they went with. Our goal was to make it safer play. Our goal was to make it just as exciting play as it always has been. At the end of the day, we need less guys injured on that play. I think we can get there, too. I think if you teach blocking correctly, you teach taking on blocks correctly, you teach tackling correctly, you have a chance to keep guys healthier.”
The Vikings averaged 24.8 yards per kickoff return in 2017, which ranked fourth in the NFL. Minnesota’s coverage unit allowed an average of 22.7 yards per kickoff return, which ranked 25th, last season.
The average starting field position for the Vikings after kickoffs was the 24.3-yard line (22nd in the NFL), but opponents had an average starting field position of 25.5 (25th in the NFL).
What will be different about kickoffs in 2018?
— No running starts for kickoff coverage teams
— No two-man wedge blocks by the return teams
— Eight of 11 men on the return team must be aligned in the “setup zone” within 15 yards of the ball
— Blocking within the “setup zone” will not be allowed until after the ball touches the ground if it is not first caught
The new rule will be in place this fall and then evaluated in the next offseason.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards was asked in a media session Wednesday about the impact of the new kickoff rule on the defense.
Edwards said the Vikings have continued to look at how moving the spotting of the ball from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line after kickoffs resulting in touchbacks. The league initiated that change in 2016 on a one-year basis that was adopted permanently.
“Obviously, player safety is the most important thing as guys are working through it,” Edwards said. “For us, we think that it will, where the ball is placed to start, your percentages changed as far as scoring of offenses and all those different things that we go through. We’ll see as we keep progressing.”
Three additional highlights from the media sessions follow.
Early assessment of Mike Hughes:
Edwards and Priefer have had the opportunity to work with 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes.
The cornerback, who has been playing inside and outside, also has tried his hand at returning kickoffs and punts.
“He’s done a really good job, we’ve moved him around to a couple different positions, so there’s a lot going on right now,” Edwards said. “It’s usually that way transitioning from college; the game is totally different for us. He’s done a good job, his talent shows, his skill set shows. We’re just working through it, refining it, hopefully keep continuing to get him ready to go.
Priefer said Hughes has looked “very comfortable” on kickoff returns and “is comfortable or getting more comfortable” on punts.
“We’ve worked with him a lot, already starting in rookie minicamp earlier this month,” Priefer said. “Like any young player that comes in here, they don’t have the time in college to teach them a lot of the techniques that we have the time to teach them here. He’s been being taught stuff on how to track it correctly, how to catch it correctly. He’s got all the ability in the world. He is really starting to put it all together. He has a great opportunity to compete for that job, as well.”
*Speaking of punting: *
Weather pushed Wednesday’s practice to the Indoor Practice Facility at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center where Vikings Owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf enjoyed watching before joining the organization’s “Team Up to Give Back” community service day. While much focus was on the grid, the volume of the space was fully utilized during punt drills.
Ryan Quigley was able to let loose on punts, and the balls reached their intended destination thanks to the full clearance at the new facility that is significantly greater than Minnesota’s former indoor facility at Winter Park where balls often caromed off the ceiling and trusses.
“It’s great,” Priefer said. “I just told [Ryan] Quigley, ‘You need to go thank both owners that are standing over there and thank them for building the building that is high enough to punt in.’ He had a 5.2 hang time today, and it didn’t hit the ceiling. We’ve been punting in here for a while. This is the first time we practiced in here with the full team. It was great. It was very nice to have it. It was a good day. Good day for us.”
The chess match:
Edwards and the Vikings defense have had relative continuity, gradually adding playmakers to a core that has grown since 2014.
After finishing No. 1 in yards allowed and points allowed in 2017, the defense has a new challenge right now presented by offseason additions John DeFilippo at offensive coordinator and Kirk Cousins at quarterback.
“It’s a challenge coming out here every day,” Edwards said. “It’s good work for us. It’s good competition.
“Some concepts have changed, some things we’ve had to adjust and adapt to,” Edwards added. “That’s kind of what the offseason is, kind of figure out what you’re good at, things you want to improve on that you’ve identified from the season before. We’re really concentrating and focusing on what we’ve got to get done. But, like I said, it’s a competition out here every day, and we’re trying to get the most out of each other.”