Two Special Players in Third

The Minnesota Vikings' two returners – Mewelde Moore and Bethel Johnson – are third in the NFC in their respective duties, and for at least one of them it's been a surprising transition.

Well, isn't that special?

Despite a rash of injuries that have forced special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro to juggle in and out a roster full of players, the Vikings' return teams appear to be among the best in the NFC. Both kickoff returner Bethel Johnson and punt returner Mewelde Moore are ranked third in average among NFC returners in their respective categories.

Chicago punt returner Devin Hester leads the NFC with a 12.9-yard average along with two touchdowns. Antwaan Randle-El of Washington is second with an 11.7-yard average and one touchdown. Moore is third with an 11.2-yard average along with one touchdown.

Not bad for a running back who hadn't really returned punts since his sophomore year in high school before he got to the Vikings.

"I didn't expect to be a punt returner in the NFL – period," Moore said. "I came in and I was fighting for a job as a starter. When I first came in I was pushed into being a kick returner. Then some things happened and boom, I was a punt returner for the first time since I was a sophomore in high school. That was a big shock. All I wanted to do was catch it."

Moore has done more than catch it. His elusive running style has helped propel him into one of the league's top punt returners.

"I've been pretty close here and there, it's just a matter of time," Moore said. "I just have to keep working hard, hope we break through and when we do we'll be off and running."

The kickoff return game for the Vikings has enjoyed similar success. Dallas kick returner Tyson Thompson leads the NFC with a 26.0-yard average while Atlanta's Allen Rossum is second with a 25.9 average. Johnson, who was waived by New Orleans a couple months after being traded from New England, is third in the NFC with a 24.9 average.

"It's going to come eventually," Johnson said. "I just have to keep the faith and keep rolling with it. I believe the opportunities are there every week to get a touchdown, and eventually we'll get one."

It's been their success that had former Vikings coach Dennis Green talking about Moore and Johnson without any prompting by reporters in a conference call earlier this week.

"Once they added Bethel Johnson with his speed, not only as a wide receiver, and Troy Williamson, their speed at wide receiver, but also Bethel's return capabilities and Mewelde Moore's return capabilities, the Vikings are definitely a very dangerous team that easily could be sitting right in the heart of the playoff run," Green said.

Neither returner takes all of the credit for the special teams' success.

"We have some guys who are working hard, picking up their blocks and are giving us an opportunity to make a return," Moore said. "We just want to continue to work harder and focus on executing."

Johnson agrees: "The guys prepare well and they know they have returners who can take it to the house, so they're confident in doing their job, and then it's up to us to do the rest."

It hasn't come easy. Not when several players have shuttled in and out because of injuries throughout the special teams units.

"It's tough because there are a lot of guys moving around because of injuries, but that's special teams," special teams ace Heath Farwell said. "The other guys have had to step up even if they didn't get a lot of practice during the week. On game day, they have to be ready to roll."

Farwell likes what he has seen this year.

"Bethel's doing a great job back there obviously, but the guys up front on the wedges are making good blocks," Farwell said. "Mewelde's made some great plays, but there have been good blocks ahead of him also. It's about all 11 guys doing their jobs.

"Special teams is a mentality and it's all about effort. You have to fly around and give 100 percent and hustle around and make plays. Special teams really come down to just making plays."

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