EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –The Vikings know they have to be prepared for 11-time Pro Bowler Drew Brees when he comes to town with the Saints on Sunday.
Minnesota's defense is readying itself for more than just New Orleans' veteran players, however.
Rookie running back Alvin Kamara has made quite the splash for the Saints this season, in more phases than one. Kamara played all 16 games during the regular season and recorded 120 carries for 728 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. In the passing game, he made 81 catches for 826 yards and five touchdowns through the air.
The Saints have also used Kamara on special teams. The rookie returned 11 kicks for 347 yards, including a 106-yard return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay to close out the regular season.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer both talked Thursday about the threat that Kamara poses for an opposing team.
"He's excellent at running the ball out of the backfield. He's excellent," Edwards said of Kamara. "You see him in the passing game quite a bit, the screen game, so we will have our challenges making sure we keep him contained during the course of the day. They've found a lot of different roles for him. He plays a lot of different positions, so he's somebody we'll definitely have to make sure we're on top of and [aware of] what they're doing with him."
Priefer said that Kamara didn't have extensive experience as a returner at Tennessee but that the Vikings saw enough on film "to say this guy is going to be really good someday."
"I think the more he does it, the more confident he gets, and that's what makes him very dangerous," Priefer added.
He also commented on second-year returner Tommylee Lewis, who has served as both a kick and punt returner for New Orleans this season.
"I thought he was a great punt returner last year, and then this year he's gotten his opportunities and he's done a good job on kickoff returns, as well," Priefer said. "They're both very, very big threats for us and obviously something we've focused on all week, and we've got to go out and do our job. We've got to punt the ball well, we've got to kick the ball well, and then we've got to cover."
Here are other topics covered by Edwards, Priefer and Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur during sessions with Twin Cities media members:
Shurmur on 'staying in the moment,' focusing on Saints
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said after the regular season that he would make certain days available at the end of the bye week for teams to interview Shurmur for head-coaching positions.
Shurmur acknowledged Tuesday that he did interview and "enjoyed the conversations" but emphasized that he was able to "put that on the back burner" as the Vikings get ready for this weekend's Divisional round matchup against the Saints.
"I think we as coaches, our whole lives, have learned how to stay in the moment," Shurmur said. "Again, you do one thing and then you move on to the next. I really enjoyed the time I spent with those teams, but you quickly get back to preparing for the Saints.
"Fortunately, this is a team that we've played before, so part of it feels kind of like a division game," Shurmur continued. "We had a lot of the work done. We obviously spent a lot of work last week on the three teams that we might play, and then once we found out Sunday night [of Wild Card weekend] who we were going to play, we quickly got to the task of getting ready to play the Saints."
Shurmur on adapting to players' skill sets
Shurmur has worked with – and had success with – Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford and now Case Keenum, who has admirably stepped in and led the team after Bradford suffered a knee injury Week 1.
When asked by a reporter about the key to succeeding with quarterbacks of different styles, Shurmur said he's been fortunate to work with two very talented athletes.
"Well they're both very good football players, so that's where it starts," Shurmur said. "Offensive systems are broad, and we have a lot of plays. We all like plays that work, and so what we try to do is just focus on the plays that fit the skill set of the quarterback that's playing.
"This game is about matchups, what we think to be our three best receivers have been targeted the three most times," Shurmur added. "We just try to do what we can to get the ball in the hands of the good players, and have the quarterback be able to do it in a way that fits his skill set."
Edwards on New Orleans offense
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton has gained a reputation as an aggressive play caller, and Edwards said the Vikings are aware that "down and distance sometimes doesn't matter" in whether or not New Orleans will take a shot.
"They're going to execute their play and whatever you're giving them coverage-wise, they're going to try to get the ball to who they feel like they need to get the ball to," Edwards said. "And they have certain areas on the field they like to take shots, so we have to be alert and be aware of when those situations are."
Edwards said that having a "first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback" in Brees enables Payton to use an aggressive approach on offense.
"Our work will be cut out for us, keeping them contained and hopefully giving them some things that can cause them some problems," Edwards said.
Priefer on placekicking in the playoffs
When asked if there's a clear-cut difference in pressure that a kicker might feel in the postseason, Priefer said that it "depends on the kicker" and how he handles those types of situations.
For Vikings kicker Kai Forbath?
"To him, it's going to be business as usual," Priefer said. "Once he goes out on the field and gives the head nod to the holder, to him its business as usual: 'I just got to go do my job and make my kick.' I think pressure, it's probably beforehand, but once you get out there it should be like he's been practicing forever."
Priefer said it's also helpful if the kicker has made other high-pressure field goals throughout his career or within the respective season.
"He's been in some pressure situations, even this year, and he's come through for us," Priefer said. "[At Washington he] made that big kick, that 50-some-yarder, made the game-winner at Chicago, made a big kick at Green Bay just to open up the game in those difficult conditions."
Added Priefer: "He's been there before in terms of the pressure situations, so hopefully that will carry into the playoffs."