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Priefer: Vikings Have Multiple Options at Kick Returner

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In the six previous seasons that Vikings Special Team Coordinator Mike Priefer has been with the team, the Vikings have 12 kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns.

Priefer said the success has been a combination of talented returners, unselfish blockers and strong overall team attitude.

Yet as Priefer enters his seventh season in Minnesota, the Vikings have an opening for a kickoff returner for the first time in Priefer's tenure.

Priefer recently chatted with Vikings.com and said that he's excited about the upcoming season on special teams.

"We've been fortunate to have some very talented returners who have played for us here in Minnesota," Priefer said. "I think when you have a good returner, that makes everyone else around them better. They listen more attentively during the meetings, they study harder.

"I think we do a good job of teaching the finer points of the return game," Priefer added. "At the end of the day, there's been a lot of talented guys that have been here and they're fun to coach, but we're going to find someone that's a pretty special kickoff returner."

Priefer said a handful of players could be in the mix for the role.

The Vikings drafted wide receivers Rodney Adams (fifth round) and Stacy Coley (seventh round), both of whom were kickoff returners in college. 

Marcus Sherels, who holds the Vikings franchise record with five career punt returns for touchdowns, is also an option.

"Maybe it's by committee … we have several candidates and I'm excited about that," Priefer said. "We drafted two guys who could do it. We've got guys on the roster that want to do it."

Another intriguing storyline for Priefer's group during OTAs and training camp is the position battle at kicker and punter.

Priefer said he's excited to watch kickers Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn duke it out, and see who steps up at the punter spot between Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank.

"We've got a veteran punter (Quigley) and a veteran kicker (Forbath), and they're competing against two young guys. The two young guys (Koehn and Symmank) have big-time legs, and they're young and strong," Priefer said. "Kai is the older veteran and he's been in the league for a while, and he's very silky smooth. Marshall Koehn coming in, he's got a phenomenal kickoff leg, and he has to prove he is consistent on field goals in order to beat the veteran out.

"Ryan Quigley is the veteran guy who has done it before and has had a lot of success in this league in New York. I thought he did a great job in Arizona and couldn't believe they let him go," Priefer added. "Taylor Symmank is a young guy that's got a phenomenal leg, so there's a lot of competition and it's going to make all four of them better."

Vikings long snapper Kevin McDermott is back for his third season in Purple.

"Kevin McDermott is kind of the glue that's keeping everyone together," Priefer said. "He's a fine young man and an excellent snapper and I'm glad we still have him."

Priefer said that one of his favorite aspects of his role is getting to work with the entire roster. Instead of focusing on just offense or defense, Priefer said he's constantly surveying the entire roster. 

"I get guys coming into my office every day," Priefer said. "Young guys in the morning before they meet with their position coaches and the older guys come in at the end of the day … they actually eat their lunch in my office watching tape with me.

"It's an ongoing process and the great thing about being the Special Teams Coordinator is that you get to deal with the whole team," he added. "You get to teach everybody and teach every technique that there is in football."

Even with all the success the Vikings have had under Priefer, the former Naval helicopter pilot said he's always looking for ways to improve.

Marcus Sherels finished second in the NFL with an average of 13.9 yards per punt return but missed a quarter of the season due to injury.

Priefer said becoming more consistent in all areas was on his laundry list.

 "I think we were really good on kickoff return last year, but I think we can be better … we left a lot of yards on the field," Priefer said. "Punt return, I think we can be even better. Losing Marcus for those four games really hurt us.

"Our kickoff coverage has got to be a place we improve," Priefer added. "And even at the punter position, we need to be more consistent. There's a lot of great games we had last year, and our punt team helped up win several of those games … but at the end of the day, we have to improve there."

If and when the improvements occur, Priefer noted that the Vikings are fortunate to have one of the top stadiums in the NFL to call their own.

"Both teams love it," Priefer said. "The great thing about that place is that you feel like you're outdoors, but you're not. 

"It's the best venue I've ever been in for a football game, and I'm just glad it's our home field," Priefer added.

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