Murphy looking for consistency

As Brian Murphy takes charge of the Vikings' special teams in 2009, he is looking to find more consistency with his return game, something the Vikings have lacked for the last decade. See what Murphy had to say and the numbers to show why this should be a priority for him.

With the promotions of Brian Murphy to special teams coordinator and Chad O'Shea to assistant special teams coach, the staff directing the Minnesota Viking' 2009 special teams is in place.

Now if Murphy and company can just find some consistency in those teams – he hopes that will start by finding more consistent roles for the key players on special teams. More specifically, Murphy is hoping to find more defined kick and punt returners.

"I think regardless of position, the key to steady improvement throughout the course of the year is to have the same guys doing the same things. That's how you build continuity and you build success throughout the course of the season," Murphy told Viking Update last week. "First off, we identify that person and that person takes the reins and takes ownership in that position. I certainly would like to have one guy do each or one guy do both, whatever the case may be. But I think you would certainly like some consistency in that position. To have success, to make continuous improvement throughout the season, I think you have to have consistency."

To wit: The Vikings haven't had the same player lead the team in kickoff returns since the 1998-99 seasons. Since then, it's been David Palmer (1999), Trent Walters (2000), Nate Jacquet (2001), Moe Williams (2002), Onterrio Smith (2003), Kelly Campbell (2004), Koren Robinson (2005), Bethel Johnson (2006), Aundrae Allison (2007) and Maurice Hicks (2008).

Last year alone, the Vikings had eight players return kickoffs. Hicks led the way with 29 returns, but Chester Taylor had 10, Darius Reynaud had eight, Allison had six, Charles Gordon had two, Jim Kleinsasser had three, Naufahu Tahi had two and Adrian Peterson had one.

Murphy said he has already taken a critical look at all the aspects of special teams, but he wasn't ready to publicly name a leader in the clubhouse to return kicks and punts in 2009.

"We have some guys in the program, some guys that did it last year. We have some young players with talent and Bernard (Berrian) gave us a great shot of energy towards the end part of the season (with punt returns)," he said. "We'll talk about free agency and things like that. We'll just see how it shakes out. It's just like having a featured back, (you need) somebody that takes the bull by the horns and makes it their own. We'd like to come out of OTAs (organized team activities) and minicamp and feel good about who's going to catch the ball and return it for us."

The leading punt returners have been nearly as inconsistent for the Vikings this decade. Jacquet was the leader in 2000 and 2001, followed by Nick Davis (2002), Keenan Howry (2003), Nate Burleson (2004), Mewelde Moore (2005 and 2006), Bobby Wade (2007) and Gordon (2008).

While Murphy liked what Berrian gave the Vikings returning punts – he easily had the highest average with 16.3 yards on seven punt returns – he admitted there is some hesitancy with putting an offensive playmaker of his caliber on the rough and tumble business of returning punts.

"Sure there is. It was the same thing when Adrian was returning kickoffs for us. The one thing about the special teams coordinator, as selfish as you want to be, there is also a point too where you have to have the big picture in mind. And certainly, whether it's a Bernard Berrian or an Adrian Peterson, you always have the concern about a player's health in your mind."

But Murphy also has to think about his mental health, which would be in much better shape if the Vikings can find more consistency on special teams in 2009.

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