Marcus Sherels’ 65-yard punt return for a touchdown last week earned the unheralded returner the NFC special teams player of the week award.
For Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, the honor reflects the total work of Sherels and the special teams during a 23-20 victory against the Bears.
Sherels went untouched down the right sideline with several key blocks for his third career punt return touchdown. Much-maligned kicker Blair Walsh connected on all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 36-yard winner as time expired.
“If it’s Blair, it’s because the snap, the hold and protection were really good,” Priefer explained about the award. “If it’s our punter, it’s because the coverage and our protection was really good. Any type of award for special teams — and I think any of our guys who have won those awards will tell you the same thing — that it’s more of a team award than anything else.”
Heading into Sunday’s game at home against the St. Louis Rams, Priefer said he will have some sleepless nights because of St. Louis’ special teams units and the propensity of Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and special teams coach John Fassel to call trick plays.
Priefer’s own units can cause some headaches for opponents.
Sherels has long flown under the radar as Priefer’s punt returner, continually fighting off training camp competition. Sherels is fifth in the league with an 11.5-yard punt return average.
Walsh, coming off a career-worst 2014 and a troublesome preseason, has regained his consistency.
Meanwhile, Minnesota is fourth in the NFL in average starting field position offensively (30.4) and defensively (23.5).
“I think we’re performing at a pretty high level right now,” Antone Exum said of the special teams. “Guys are just having that expectation when we get out there on the field that we’re going to beat the team that’s in front of us, whether that be the punt unit, punt return unit, kick return, kickoff. We think that we’re going to do something to help the defense or the offense every time we step on the field.”
Walsh, who slipped to a 74.3 percent mark on field goal attempts last season, was 5 of 11 in the preseason, missed a field goal in the season opener at San Francisco and an extra-point attempt the following week.
He’s made 17 of his past 18 field-goal attempts, though, and has hit on 10 of his past 11 extra points.
“There’s no changes to the technique or anything,” Walsh said. “We just cleaned a few things up and are just trying to get into the rhythm of making kicks. That’s really what it is.”
While kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson hasn’t broken a long runback, Priefer believes the issues fall more in line with the scheme and the players in front of Patterson. Patterson has averaged 24.7 yards per return, which is 20th among all kickoff returners this season. Patterson’s longest return has been 33 yards.
“We’re not blocking well enough, to be honest with you,” Priefer said. “Every return, every play has had something a little bit minute wrong with it, whether it was the blocking or the way we set the return, or maybe it was the scheme against that type of coverage. But we’ve got to start putting it together because we need our kickoff-return team to get better.”