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Priefer Expects Dynamic Kickoff Returns to Continue

MANKATO, Minn. —The Vikings will feature a new first-team kickoff returner in 2017, but they believe that game-changing plays can continue.

Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said it's too early to answer who will be tabbed to replace Pro Bowl return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson in the role, but the team has several options and plans to be aggressive this season.

Maybe not in the 109-yard return for a touchdown way like Patterson did to set an NFL record in 2013, but they still will look to capitalize on opportunities.

"You don't replace Cordarrelle Patterson. I think he's one of the most unique athletes that I've had the opportunity to work with," Priefer said. "What you do is you find a returner that's going to be very, very good, whether it's Jerick McKinnon or Rodney Adams, Marcus Sherels, Stacy Coley, even Dalvin Cook.

"[Head Coach Mike Zimmer] teased me about that the other day because over the summer I had mentioned that I'd like to use [Cook] there," Priefer added. "If he's not running the ball a lot, I might jump up on the table for him. You want to use the best players that are available, and Dalvin's got ability, but they all have availability."

On Friday with McKinnon unavailable, the Vikings had Sherels, Adams, Coley and Isaac Fruechte participate in a kickoff return drill.

"Jerick is hurt right now. I'd like to give him an opportunity," Priefer said. "Rodney is doing a good job. He's getting better. Marcus has told me he's durable enough to do both, and he is a very prideful young man. We'll see as the games get closer. I think that's going to work itself out."

Sherels returned 16 kickoffs for 445 yards (27.8 average) in the 2011 season and 16 more for 422 yards (26.4 average) in the following year before the Vikings drafted Patterson. Since then, Sherels has returned eight additional kickoffs a total of 178 yards.

Priefer said he thinks Sherels is good enough to be a starting kick returner for multiple NFL teams. It's just that the Vikings had Percy Harvin when Priefer arrived in 2011 and 2012 and then drafted Patterson in 2013.

"Marcus could be the guy this year because he's so talented," Priefer said. "I don't think he's an NFL backup kick returner. I think he could be a starter in this league.

"The only reason [to not go] with him, would be because of his size," Priefer added. "I don't want him to get beat up, and kickoff return, sometimes you can take some shots. On punt returns, he can take some shots because he's so good with his vision. He's also a very valuable gunner."

Sherels has five career punt return touchdowns and the two best year-long punt return averages in team history (15.2 in 2013 and 13.9 in 2016). A rib injury caused Sherels to miss three straight games last season (at Detroit, against Dallas, at Jacksonville).

The Vikings have ranked third or better in average starting field position after kickoffs in each season under Priefer:

2011: 24.5 (third)

2012: 24.6 (second)

2013: 27.2 (first)

2014: 25.1 (second)

2015: 25.0 (first)

2016: 26.9 (second)

Minnesota also has seven kickoff return touchdowns since 2011.

Priefer said the Vikings past success stems from talented returners and the other 10 players on the field executing.

"We believe in what we teach technique-wise with our front line, with our back line," Priefer said. "We believe in our schemes and how we attack people. We've been successful there, not only because we've had great athletes but because we've had guys that believe we're going to be good on that unit and we go out there and execute."

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