Detroit overhauls special teams coverage

The Lions aren't likely to give up the big returns they surrendered to the Vikings last time. Detroit has overhauled its coverage units on special teams and eliminated the glaring trouble spots.

When the Vikings beat the Detroit Lions in their first meeting, it wasn't because the Vikings lit them up on offense or had a dominant performance on defense. The primary reason the Vikings won the game was because of a pair of dominating special teams plays – a 105-yard kickoff return by Percy Harvin to start the game and a 77-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels to help put the game away.

As the Vikings prepare to meet the Lions for the second time in the 2012 season, there is going to be a much different look to the Detroit special teams unit. There are four new players on the Lions kickoff coverage team and three new players on the punt coverage unit, according to Viking special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. The Lions are rotating starters into the coverage units to solidify both and Priefer said Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz had seen enough after his team allowed two kickoffs and two punts to be returned for touchdowns in the span of two weeks.

"The thing about the NFL is, if some guys can't get it done, they bring in new guys," Priefer said. "They brought in a couple new guys, but, for the most part, they're doing a lot of the same things. They're just doing them better."

As is often the case, special teams players are typically backups on the roster. But when the unit is struggling, starters are pushed into special teams duty and Detroit was no exception.

After the loss to the Vikings, safeties Ricardo Silva and Don Carey were added to the coverage team. They moved linebacker Travis Lewis into a middle coverage position and brought in wide receivers Stefan Logan and Kassim Osgood to provide speed on the kick coverage team.

"They're a well-coached team," Priefer said. "Their head coach puts a lot of emphasis on special teams. You knew they were only going to get better. It's been six weeks and you can see their improvement. I think any time you get burned, you get a little embarrassed, you're going to come back and play a little bit harder. Your back is against the wall and you're backed into a corner, you're going to come out swinging and that's what they've done."

Of course, the Lions would also benefit if Harvin is unable to play, or least return kickoffs, because of a sprained left ankle.


  • Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson claimed he suffered nerve damage after taking a couple of big hits from the Vikings defense in their first meeting that has made it difficult for him to grip the ball. Through eight games, Megatron has just one touchdown and none from starting QB Matthew Stafford.

  • Johnson was one of seven Lions that didn't participate in practice Thursday. Cornerback Chris Houston (illness) was added to the injury report Thursday, but the other six didn't practice either Wednesday or Thursday and all of them are key players for Detroit – Johnson (knee), DE Cliff Avril (back), safeties Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (concussion), DT Corey Williams (knee) and WR Titus Young (knee).

  • Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch returned to practice Thursday after being given Wednesday off to rest, a practice many teams do with veteran players as the season grinds on.

  • Adrian Peterson went home from Winter Park at about 11:30 a.m. with an illness that kept him out of practice. Harvin (ankle) and Letroy Guion (foot) were the only Vikings who missed the entire practice due to injuries.

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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