Changes on Special Teams Needed

For the last two years, special teams have been more than a minor problem for the Vikings -- which is why Rusty Tillman will be the third special teams coach the Vikings will have in their last 17 regular-season games. But, it would seem that not only has nothing changed, it has regressed instead of progressed.

For generations, coaches have spewed the same mantra about their players. The way the cliched line goes: "There are three teams – offense, defense and special teams." The theory is, if all three are on the top of their games, you win. If two of three play well, you should win – but one playing badly can kill you.

So it was for a second straight week that the Vikings special teams was nothing short of awful. It's easier to blame special teams in a two-point loss like the Vikes suffered against the Jaguars, especially with a 12-men-on-the-field call during a punt with 2:25 to play that allowed the Jags to run out the clock.

One would have thought those types of plays would have been rectified Saturday vs. the Chiefs. They weren't, and it once again put the Vikings offense and defense in dire straights.

Consider the following:
* The Chiefs get a 42-yard kickoff return to open the game, which, following two first downs, puts them in scoring position.
* After taking a 7-3 lead, the Vikings are once again offside on a kickoff. It should be noted for special teams apologists that the fumbled punt recovery by the Vikings that led to their first TD had nothing to do with a hit by a Minnesota special teamer – return man Dante Hall simply fumbled the ball.
* After cutting the deficit to 13-10 with 1:07 to play, the ensuing kickoff goes into the end zone. Once again, the Vikings are flagged for being offsides.
* On the opening kickoff of the second half, the Vikings are called for holding – pinning third-string QB Shaun Hill on his own 16-yard line. By the time that drive is over, the Vikings are backed up to their own 2-yard line and punting from the back of the end zone.
* Late in the third quarter – eerily similar to the Jags game – Nick Murphy shanks a 29-yard punt out of bounds.
* Shortly before the Chiefs final TD drive, the Vikings allow the Chiefs a 25-yard punt return that starts the drive on the Minnesota 47-yard line and lets K.C. take a chance on a deep pass (which is completed).
* On a punt by the Chiefs with a little more than two minutes and the Vikings trailing by 10 points, an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty gives K.C. a first down and the Chiefs run out the clock … again.

In a game where one or two plays can make a difference in determining the winner or loser, SEVEN miscues by a unit that isn't on the field that much is unacceptable. If this unit doesn't improve, the Vikings will be hard-pressed to make the jump back to January football that they (and their fans) are expecting.

* In a piece devoted to the Vikings Sunday night on ESPN, analyst Mark Schlereth predicted the Vikings will win the NFC North and the network's gambling analyst claimed he put money on the Vikes as a 30-1 dog to win the Super Bowl. Here's hoping they know what they're talking about.
* The biggest mistake Saturday was made by the Chiefs and nobody else but VU noticed it. Ever wonder why Dallas and Miami wear the typical white uniforms at home? Because it's hot in Dallas and Miami and they know it. Color absorbs heat, so forcing the road team to wear dark uniforms can wear them out as the game goes along. Knowing they were playing a home game in mid-August in Kansas City, Dick Vermeil and the Chiefs could have expected heat – maybe not the 100 degrees it was shortly before gametime, but hot nonetheless. K.C. opted to wear their home red uniforms. While it didn't make a difference in winning or losing, it was a mistake.
* Undrafted rookie Rushen Jones started in nickel packages in place of Ken Irvin Saturday and, due to continued injuries, will start again next week vs. pass-happy Oakland.
* Denard Walker re-aggravated his right hamstring injury in the second quarter Saturday and isn't expected to play Friday vs. Oakland – making a bad CB situation worse. Both of the free-agent corners signed by the Vikes in the offseason will be on the bench, which could result in Rich Gannon firing at will at the Vikings secondary Friday night.
* The Chiefs racked up 429 yards of total offense Saturday – 301 of that coming through the air.
* Both Kevin Williams and Nate Burleson played in all four quarters Saturday.
* The injury to Michael Vick of the Falcons is currently being said to be six weeks. If that is true, his first game of 2003 will be at home in Week 5 of the regular season – vs. the Vikings.
* Hayden Epstein didn't dress for Saturday's game, allowing his competition for the kicking job to be clouded.
* Following what Mike Tice called a "separating" game for the good for RB Onterrio Smith, he had just two yards on four carries Saturday. But, for the second straight week, he scored a short-yardage TD for you fantasy football acolytes out there.
* Brian Russell is going to start at free safety in place of Willie Offord. Originally, the plan was to move Corey Chavous to free safety if Offord didn't hold the job, but the current feeling is that the Vikes want to keep Chavous at strong safety.
* The Vikings re-signed LB Jarrod Penright Sunday.

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