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Season Review, ST: Specialists Adjust to Elements

View the top 30 images of Vikings special teamers from the 2014 season.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Special teams provide opportunities for players to earn roster spots, gain exposure to the game at the highest level and moments that can change games.

This was perhaps best exemplified in 2014 when Minnesota hosted Carolina, and the Vikings became the fifth team in NFL history to block two punts and return each for touchdowns in the same game.

Adam Thielen, whose work on special teams helped bolster his case to be a reserve wide receiver, delivered the first. The Minnesota native blocked Brad Nortman's punt, collected the ball with one hand while on the ground, sprung to his feet and raced 30 yards for a touchdown. It set a Vikings franchise record for length that stood for approximately 12 minutes of game time.

Jasper Brinkley blocked another offering from Nortman that Everson Griffen collected and returned 43 yards for a touchdown. Griffen, who had a team-best 12 sacks in his first year as a starting defensive end, had logged substantial action on special teams earlier in his career.

The Vikings have scored eight touchdowns on special teams since Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer's arrival in 2011, which is tied for the most in the NFL in that span.

Vikings special teamers were required to adjust to elements this season and will be again next season with home games being played outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium. The team is scheduled to move back indoors for home games in 2016 when the new Vikings opens.

Kicker Blair Walsh and punter Jeff Locke spent time practicing at TCF Bank Stadium while teammates remained at Winter Park to learn more about how the stadium's wind patterns would affect their kicks.

Walsh recorded 48 touchbacks on kickoffs, which was the ninth-most in the NFL in 2014, elevating his franchise-record total to 144 through his first three seasons.

The elements, however, combined with Walsh's willingness to attempt long kicks took a little toll on his field goal percentage that was 89.7 percent through his first two seasons. He finished 26-for-35 on the season (74.3 percent), but those numbers were affected by attempting a 68-yarder in Detroit that would have shattered an NFL record, a block by the Lions that wasn't Walsh's fault and a 56-yarder against the New York Jets. Walsh added five successful field goals from 50 or more yards and has the franchise record with 17 such kicks.

The chart below shows field goal stats for the Vikings in 2014:

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Locke's 75 punts were the same amount as his rookie season the year before, as was his 44.2-yard gross average. He finished with 2 more yards (3,318) than the previous season, but six touchbacks slightly reduced his net average from 39.2 in 2013 to 38.7 this season. Locke pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line 21 times and had a long of 62 in his second pro season.

The chart below shows punting stats for the Vikings in 2014:

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Marcus Sherels finished sixth in the league in punt return average (among players with enough attempts to qualify). Sherels gained 297 yards on 27 returns for an average of 11.0 yards on his returns. He had four games with at least one return of 24 or more yards and secured 26 fair catches. Sherels' long on the year was 35 yards at Detroit, and he added a 31-yarder against Chicago in the season finale.

The chart below shows punt return stats for the Vikings in 2014:

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Cordarrelle Paterson finished sixth in the NFL in kickoff return average (among players with enough attempts to qualify). Patterson gained 871 yards on 34 returns for an average of 25.6 yards per run back and had four games with a return of 40 or more yards, including a season-long of 51 at Detroit. Opponents began avoiding Patterson by kicking the ball short, where other players could make the catch and help the Vikings start drives with decent field position.

The chart below shows kickoff return stats for the Vikings in 2014:

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Andrew Sendejo led the Vikings with 13 tackles (10 solo) on special teams, followed by Audie Cole and Thielen, who each had 12 total tackles. Sherels added 11, and Jabari Price and Rhett Ellison each finished with seven.

The chart below shows special teams statistics (tackles by coaches' tally) for the Vikings in 2014:

st-table-5.jpg
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