While new Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer gets to know some of the top college talent entering the NFL draft this week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., he is also getting started in earnest with his new colleagues.
Priefer was officially hired by the Vikings last week, but it appears he was head coach Leslie Frazier's top target since the end of the season. Frazier knew Priefer's dad, Chuck, had a long special-teams history in the NFL.
"Mike is from that background where he understands the importance of attacking and being aggressive and having a desire to score on special teams," Frazier said. "We really believe that our special teams is not any less than our offense or defense. They are just as important. Mike understands that, and I really look forward to working with him. He knows exactly what I want to get done, just like all our other coaches do."
Priefer's aggressive mentality could come from his military background and he's looking for toughness from his players on special teams.
"Being an ex-helicopter pilot, people thought I was crazy flying helicopters, and I think people think I'm crazy coaching special teams. It's all in a good way," he said. "I think any time you deal with young people, and I was fortunate enough to be a young division officer, I had 40-50 guys under my command, and I really learned how to deal with different personality types from different parts of the country and different type kids with different problems people had. It was just a great experience for a young guy. At the time I was only 25 to 26 years old. Those experiences have really carried over into the coaching realm."
Frazier made the decision shortly after the season to interview other candidates rather than stick with incumbent special-teams coordinator Brian Murphy. He was told he could look for other opportunities and landed in the same role with the Carolina Panthers.
Vikings punt returner Greg Camarillo averaged 9.2 yards on 39 returns under Murphy, while on kick returns Percy Harvin averaged 23.3 yards on 40 returns and Lorenzo Booker averaged 23.8 yards on 18 returns at the end of the season.
In Denver last year, Priefer's main punt-return man, Eddie Royal, averaged 11.9 yards on 25 returns. Their kickoff return man, Eric Decker, averaged 25.3 yards on 22 returns.
Priefer's special teams averaged 44.6 yards gross and 36.6 yards net punting, a better gross but lower net than the Vikings had in 2010. The Vikings averaged 43.0 yards gross yards punting and 38.9 net yards.
"I think right from the get-go I'm going to talk to the team about wanting to be the toughest team on the field. I'm a lot about toughness in all six phases, to be honest with you. Not just in the coverage phases, although that's probably where you show your most toughness is in the coverage phases," he said. "I'm going to talk about discipline. I'm an ex-military. Sometimes when the guys find that out, they don't understand what I mean by discipline, but it's more football discipline and making the right choices in terms of getting on the field and having great focus and awareness, not only in meetings, in walk-throughs, practices. Of course, everything carries over into the game.
"And then I talk about enthusiasm and passion for the game, and then I'm going to talk about
effort. Those are my four – toughness, discipline, effort, enthusiasm are my four buzzwords that I like to use a lot."
Priefer was informed that he might have to deal with a little different personality with punter Chris Kluwe, who has an eclectic entertainment pallet and isn't afraid to put his opinion in front of the public via his Twitter account.
"I've dealt with all types now. When I was younger, I was not very patient," Priefer said. "I've become more of a patient coach when it comes to those personality types. I can understand that. I see his quotes a lot in the paper. I think he's a punter who likes to talk a little bit. But you can have fun with the guys like that. As long as when the lights come on, as long as they put the work in beforehand, and then when the lights come on on game day they are ready to roll, that's the bottom line."
That also will be the bottom line with how Priefer is judged.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Mike Priefer: Tough, crazy and disciplined?
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