Like head coach Mike Zimmer, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is tired of the mistakes – specifically the penalties – on special teams.
Yes, he has young guys playing on special teams, but that’s always the case. But the mistakes are coming too often and too consistently for the comfort of the two coaches.
After Sunday’s overtime win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and two more penalties on special teams, Zimmer said he was “just about fed up” with them. On Monday, he stressed that point in a team meeting.
On Thursday, Priefer said that message is being conveyed clearly to the players.
“When you’re an error-repeater, you’re going to run out of chances at some point,” Priefer said. “So we’ve got to make sure we either get it corrected or we’ve got to find somebody else to do those jobs.”
Priefer has been talking about the penalties on special teams for weeks, but the frustration with them is coming to a head. The solution is two-fold, he said.
“It’s either coaching is obviously allowing things to happen or they’re just not good enough,” Priefer said. “I think they’re good enough and I’m not allowing it happen. So there’s kind of a two-way street – get better or we find somebody else. Or Mike Priefer, you’ve got to do a better job of coaching it and teaching it, and that’s the approach I’ve taken. I don’t want to wholesale replace guys. We’ll replace them if we have to, but I have to coach them better. I’ve got to teach them better. I know they understand the importance of it. If they don’t after this, then they’re lost causes. But I think they understand how important it is and how important field position is.”
On Sunday, the Vikings tied for their second-lowest penalty count of the season – six total – but had their highest amount of yards nullified by penalties at 42. One penalty was particularly costly.
Rookie cornerback Jabari Price reached out and grabbed the jersey of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers gunner during a Minnesota punt return. That nullified a 42-yard return by Marcus Sherels in the second quarter.
Preifer doesn’t make the final decision on which players are active or not, so he’s got to be prepared with several options at any position on special teams. This week, things have gotten a little more serious in making sure there are multiple options.
“This week I’m working more people than I have for any normal week to make sure we’re going to get as many guys prepared so on Sunday, when we put our inactive list or our active list, we’ve got the right guys prepared for their jobs today,” he said.
“That’s the frustrating thing for me is the penalties. We were not penalized very often last year and this year we have been. That’s been tough. We’ve lost a lot of hidden yardage or a lot of return yardage because of penalties. I think that was the big message of the young guys. Those were the ones making the most mistakes are the young guys and that’s usually what it is.”
Priefer said he doesn’t use youth as an excuse. He also has plenty of young players being an integral part of his special teams. That’s part of life in the early years of a player.
He knows they can play without making mistakes, but getting them to go out and do it is the real challenge.
“These guys that are making the mistakes, they’re very talented football players. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t. They have to continue to focus on not being penalized,” he said. “I tell them all the time, ‘You’re blessed with God-given abilities.’ There’s a lot of athletic talent in this room when I talk to these guys. At the end of the day, take what the good Lord has given you, combine it with the techniques and the schemes that we’re teaching and you’re going to be successful. But they have to do that all the time. They have to be consistent in order for us to be a strong special teams unit. In the return game specifically, we’re not getting that done right now.”
If that continues, they won’t be playing, and that’s the ultimate hammer the coach staff possesses.
“Absolutely. They want to play,” Priefer said. “Like any competitive athlete, they want to be on the field.”
Priefer: ‘Error-repeaters’ could lose jobs
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