Sherels averaged a single-season franchise record 15.2 yards per return in 2013, has the most punt return yards in a game (119 against the New York Giants in 2013, and is only the third Viking in history to have multiple punt returns for touchdowns in a career. That’s why Sherels might still be the favorite to win the job, despite Diggs’ best preseason efforts.
Through three preseason games, Diggs is averaging 25.0 yards over six returns, yet is still trying to learn from the one of the NFL’s best at the position.
“It was each day I was trying to get better and learn the little things, learn the fundamentals and everything after that will come natural, the athleticism,” Diggs said. “I wanted to really hone in on the fundamentals and doing the techniques right so it becomes easy and I can get just like Marcus Sherels and people that have done it for a while.”
Diggs has incredible short-area quickness, an asset all punt returners want, but he had only returned two punts over the final two games of his career at Maryland, focusing more at the receiver position.
That has led to some bobbled and dropped punts in practices, especially early in the process. He has been working on the techniques to improve ball security.
“The main pointer is keep your elbows tight because if your elbows are loose then the ball has a place to slip through,” Diggs said. “Keep your elbows tight and get yourself in a position to judge the ball right away.
“When game time comes around, you want it to transfer over to the game. You don’t want to start back at step one once you get in the game. Just doing the little things.”
Diggs said Sherels handles punt return duties with ease, but head coach Mike Zimmer believes Diggs has improved in that area, too.
“It’s not as much of a concern as it was at the beginning. He’s catching the ball good. The other day was really windy and he missed one,” Zimmer said.
“I like a lot of the things he’s done returning punts. He’s been a pleasant surprise in a lot of ways. We knew what kind of athlete he was and all of that, but he’s been a great kid. He works hard; he tries to get better every day. He’s been working really hard at catching punts. The more times we can play outdoors – it’s windy in Tennessee – and things like that to get some good looks at some of those kinds of things you’re talking about.”
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said last week he figures Sherels will be his punt returner. That would at least give Diggs more time to prove himself.
“I wouldn’t say it’s all natural yet,” Diggs said. “I’m not Marcus Sherels yet, but I feel like I’m getting better and it’s becoming more comfortable for me.”