While entering another phase of controversy with Adrian Peterson rejoining the team following an indictment on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child, Minnesota Vikings players were especially excited to welcome back one of their coordinators on Monday.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, suspended for two games for an anti-gay comment he made in the presence of former punter Chris Kluwe, returned to work after serving a two-game suspension and completing sensitivity training. He got a “standing ovation” from players, according to fullback Jerome Felton.
“He kind of gets everybody on the same page so we know exactly what we’re doing,” Felton said. “He’s one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL. Just like when you’re missing your best player, when you’re missing one of the better coaches in the NFL on special teams it’s going to make a difference. We were very excited to have him back today.”
Felton said the return of Priefer should make a “night and day” difference for the special teams. They could use it after a mistake-filled performance Sunday against the New England Patriots.
The most glaring of those mistakes was kicker Blair Walsh having a field goal attempt blocked for only the second time in his career. New England’s Chandler Jones, who blocked the kick, returned it 58 yards for a touchdown with nine seconds remaining in the first half. It provided a huge, 10-point swing of momentum and a 24-7 halftime lead in a game the Patriots went on to win 30-7.
“We were primed and ready to make the kick and be down by (three) points and go into the locker room,” Walsh said.
“They just kind of came through the gap and by the time I looked up, the guy’s hands were in my face and it was blocked.”
Walsh said the trajectory and timing of the kick were good, getting it off in 1.28 seconds, but Jones slid right past offensive lineman Matt Kalil and blocked it.
That was just one of many mistakes by the special teams. Cordarrelle Patterson, who led the league in 2013 and set a franchise record with a 32.4-yard average on kickoff returns, is averaging only 23.7 yards on three returns this year and has a long of only 29 yards.
Walsh is hoping Priefer’s return solves the numerous special teams problems the Vikings encountered on Sunday. The fate of consultant Joe Marciano, who was hired to fill in during Priefer’s absence, isn’t known.
“He’s one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL so definitely there’s going to be a difference,” Walsh said. “We had the right personnel here and our assistant coach did a good enough job to keep our game plans the same. Joe has enough credit to his name that he should do a good job as well. What happened (Sunday) was not good. Not good for our unit and not good for us in general.”
The punt coverage and punt return units also committed some glaring mistakes. On multiple occasions, the Patriots left their offense on the field on fourth down, only to rush the punt team on and confuse the Vikings. On one of those, linebacker Audie Cole just got off the field to avoid having 12 men on the field and another time it led to the Vikings having only nine players on the field for a punt that was ultimately down at the 4-yard line in the third quarter when the team didn’t have enough players to adequately block the Patriots’ gunners.
“I didn’t realize it until (Monday), when we were in the meeting. That’s one that Prief came in and said right off the bat it can’t happen, it won’t happen again. We’ll be completely on the same page. This is a tough deal not having him, but we’re happy to have him back,” Felton said.
“I’m not sure. We’d have to look at the official’s playbook, but I kind of feel like what (the Patriots) were doing wasn’t really within the rules. They were running their offense on and off, on and off, the punt team. You don’t really see that that much, but at first we had a difficult time communicating and it was messing with us a little bit. It’s something we have to clean up and we will.”
The Vikings also allowed New England punt returner Julian Edelman to amass punt returns of 28 and 34 yards.
Zimmer took responsibility for the special teams gaffes.
“I could have done a better job, to be honest with you,” he said. “I could have done a better job. Put that one on me.”
Walsh said the absence of Priefer caused “a whirlwind of things, up and downs.”
While some called for the Vikings to fire Priefer, Zimmer has stood by him throughout the spring- and summer-long investigation into Priefer and remained steadfast that he is a good person and coach who made a mistake.
“I’m proud that Mike did the things that he had to do. I’m proud that we didn’t ruin a guy’s career because he made a mistake,” Zimmer said. “I’m glad that we were able to stand by him. I appreciate all his hard work and the things that he has done during these two weeks. We’re glad to have him back.”
Priefer’s return was roundly welcomed by the players and he stressed to them that the mistakes will get corrected in short order.
“He just apologized for his actions and he was happy to be back. It was about moving forward,” Felton said. “We had some mishaps happen in the last week and he said it ends today. We’re going to move forward, everything is positive. I’m looking forward to getting on the practice field with him this week.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings applaud return of coordinator Priefer
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