Special teams hopeful with improvement

The Vikings' coverage units have been among the worst in the league through the first eight games, but they are hoping that a good showing last week is the start of better days ahead. Interestingly, they get to circle back Sunday against one of the players who returned a punt for a touchdown earlier this year. See what the coordinator and players had to say about the current situation.

The Vikings have given up three punt returns for touchdowns. No other team in the NFL has given up more than one.

But after a stretch of bad coverage on punts and kickoffs in the first seven games, the Vikings are hopeful that things are turning around after their bye week.

"Special teams is funny. You start getting in a little slump and things just cave in. It's one of those things where you just have to battle back. It's a week-by-week thing," said linebacker Vinny Ciurciu, one of the coverage men on special teams. "You're only as good as your last game, so if you don't perform well this week, you're back to square one. It's a work in progress every week."

Last week, however, may have been one of the special teams' best games this year.

Despite facing one of the league's better punt returners in Houston's Jacoby Jones, the Vikings limited him to two punt returns for minus-1 yard, and the Texans averaged only 20.2 yards on five kickoff returns.

"Just everybody collectively as a group making it a priority as a group to be great, making it a priority to be on the same page," said safety Eric Frampton, who is tied with safety Husain Abdullah for the team lead with 11 tackles on special teams. "I just think guys were a little bit cautious. Guys were running down trying to be the safety … I think we just needed to be a little more aggressive in our pursuit."

Courage is key, said special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro.

"The No. 1 quality is that you better be fearless, to be able to get down there and to be able to come off and make plays," Ferraro said. "If you hesitate at all, those are units you can't be on. The bottom line, for us, is that those are backup defensive players and backup offensive players. They're showing that they can do that. Certainly some might be better than others at getting off of blocks and maybe speed down the field, but it still comes back to just a want-to. You have to want to get there and refuse to be blocked when you're being single blocked. (You need) a relentless attitude to get to the ball."

Two of the punt returns for touchdowns the Vikings gave up this year were yielded to the Saints' Reggie Bush. The other? That was produced by Green Bay's Will Blackmon in the third quarter of the season opener.

"Guys weren't distributing down the field right and guys were squeezing too hard. It's something that we're working on and hopefully we'll turn this thing around and do really well," Ciurciu said of Blacmon's 76-yard punt return on Sept. 8 that gave the Packers a 17-6 third-quarter lead in a 24-19 win at Lambeau Field.

Said Frampton: "We converged on the ball good. We got out of our lanes a little bit. We started to the right instead of upfield, just second-guessing ourselves a little bit. Just moving along to this next game, I think we're going to be great."

Head coach Brad Childress declined to get into specifics on what happened with Blackmon's return, but he said he's gotten even better since then.

"They did a good job. He's an excellent return guy and he's gotten better in the course of eight games. Good return guy," Childress said.

Through eight games, the Vikings have averaged only 4.6 yards per punt return while allowing a 16.5-yard average. It's a huge disparity that has made the first half of the season a little more stressful for Ferraro.

"Am I happy with where we are right now? Of course not. We need to be a lot better across the board, but that's why there's eight more games," he said. "A year ago we started out a lot faster and we faded toward the end. I'm for it (going) the other way right now; I'm looking ahead. What's happened we've learned from, and we have eight more weeks to show that we can be one of the better special teams units in this league. That's what I'm working to do and our guys are working to do."

"It's a good group of guys and once we start jelling it's going to be one of the dominant special teams because we've got guys with a lot of speed and a lot of toughness," Frampton said. "So I think once we get it all straightened out we'll be one hell of a unit."

NOTES

  • DE Jared Allen (shoulder) took part in practice on a limited basis Friday, but he was listed as doubtful on the injury report. LB David Herron (knee) and TE Garrett Mills (ankle) were also limited in practice but are listed as questionable. S Husain Abdullah (neck) is probable.

  • For the Packers, all of their players on the injury report are probable, including T Chad Clifton (knees), QB Aaron Rodgers (shoulder), CB Charles Woodson (toe) and LB Desmond Bishop (hamstring). Rodgers was limited in practice and the other three were all participated fully.

  • Running back Adrian Peterson was named the FedEx Ground Player of the Week in fan voting at NFL.com after rushing for 139 yards against the Houston Texans. Peterson had 103 of those in the second half, including three runs over 20 yards.

  • Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier believes Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has improved in the two months since the Vikings first faced him, a 24-19 Packers win. "He's improved dramatically. Going into that first game we didn't have a lot of information on him, but after watching him over the last eight weeks he's really come along, and really has a great grasp of their offense. He seems to be making some good decisions. He's done well. He's really improved from the first game up until now."

  • Frazier defended defensive end Jared Allen's style of play, which came under scrutiny this week after comments from the Houston Texans following a hit on quarterback Matt Schaub that could sideline him for a month with a knee injury. "Jared plays hard, like all of our guys do. He just plays hard. I don't think we have anybody on our team that would intentionally try to hurt another player," Frazier said. "I just don't believe that. Things sometimes inadvertently happen in our league, but not for one minute do I think that Jared Allen, or Kevin (Williams), or Pat (Williams), Ray Edwards, Chad Greenway or any of those guys would intentionally try and hurt somebody."

    Allen suffered a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder in that game and his status for Sunday's game is doubtful. Allen said earlier this week that he wants to play, and he was on the field practicing on Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday, but Childress offered a cautionary note on Thursday.

    "Sometimes you have to protect people from themselves," Childress said.




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