MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings special teams showed multiple signs of being more ready for the 2021 regular season on Saturday night.
Even though the Vikings lost their second preseason game 12-10 to the Colts, the units showed potential for making a bigger impact than in 2020.
Rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette uncorked a 41-yard kickoff return and also returned a punt 17 yards. Both were longer than Minnesota's lengthiest plays last season (a 38-yard kickoff return and 13-yard punt return).
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he liked the long return, which preceded Minnesota's third offensive series of the night. He also noted that the former Hawkeye should have taken a knee on his other opportunity that he fielded 8 yards deep in the end zone.
"I think he's been dynamic with what he does. Also at receiver, I think he's got a chance to be pretty good, too," Zimmer said. "You know, he took it out from about 8 yards deep, which he wasn't supposed to. But he's got some courage, and he catches the ball well, and he hits the seams pretty good, so I thought that part was good. Punt return, didn't he have one long punt return as well? Yep."
Smith-Marsette's long kickoff return placed the ball at the 35-yard line — and might have given the offense a little spark. The Vikings followed with runs of 8, 9 and 6 yards by Ameer Abdullah before another 9-yard gain by C.J. Ham moved the ball to the Indianapolis 32-yard line. A sack and tackle for loss on the next two plays halted the drive and forced a 51-yard field goal attempt by Greg Joseph. It had the distance but was wide right.
Joseph bounced back by kicking a 49-yarder with 45 seconds left in the first half, but the Vikings didn't get another good scoring opportunity the rest of the way.
Britton Colquitt bounced back from a bad outing against Denver by averaging 46.1 yards per punt and netting 42.9. A week after drawing mentions from Zimmer for the wrong reasons, the veteran received credit.
"I thought special teams was much improved. Colquitt punted the ball well. I thought we covered pretty well. We had some good returns. We had some good coverage," Zimmer said. "I thought we flipped the field position pretty well that way."
The Vikings offense sputtered for the second consecutive week, even with the additions of starters Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen and Irv Smith, Jr.
Cousins played just three series, completing five of seven passes for 23 yards and a passer rating of 75.3. Thielen played perhaps even more sparingly than planned because Zimmer said he took a knee to the thigh while running a slant on a third-and-3.
The Vikings defense rebounded with some encouraging numbers, like limiting the Colts to just 2.7 yards per run one week after allowing 138 rushing yards on 35 run plays. The longest run by an Indianapolis player was a 10-yard scramble by Sam Ehlinger.
Minnesota also limited the combination of Ehlinger and Jacob Eason to a combined 24-of-40 passing for 202 yards. Ehlinger was intercepted twice after deflections, including one that linebacker Troy Dye returned 33 yards for a touchdown. Ehlinger and Eason totaled a passer rating of 52.3, with Eason's 71.8 offsetting the 36.2 for Ehlinger.
So now the goal, with one more preseason game to go (at 7 p.m. Friday in Kansas City), is to put all three phases together and for special teams to continue to impact the offense and the defense.