A year ago, the Vikings' special teams were about as bad as they could possibly be. Change was promised during training camp and it showed up Friday night. At Sunday's practice, head coach Brad Childress gave props to the special teams units, which all came up big in the 13-3 win over Indianapolis.
As Brad Childress faced the media following Sunday's abbreviated practice session, one of the topics on the minds of the reporters was the dramatic turnaround the Vikings showed on kickoff and punt coverage against the Indianapolis Colts Friday.
The Vikings controlled the game in large part thanks to the play of the special teams, which consistently pinned the Colts deep in their own territory. The Vikings kicked off four times during the game and forced Indianapolis to start drives from their own 22-, 18-, 27- and 14-yard line. The team punted five times and pinned the Colts on their own 18-, 18-, 20-, 26- and 11-yard lines. The only good field position the Colts had all night was starting from their own 41-yard line following a missed field goal.
Childress said he was impressed with the showing the special teams made – both in sticking to their fundamental assignments and bringing some heavy hits when they arrived.
"They did a good job," Childress said. "They had three (kicks covered) inside the 20. You've really got to stroke to get down the field and do that. I saw guys getting to the football and arriving in a surly mood."
Childress was asked if the new rule installed by the league prohibiting coverage wedges of more than two players will help coverage teams get more open looks at returners with the chance to make the kind of plays the Vikings did Friday. He believes it may well provide some changes in how returns are set up.
"It has that capability," Childress said. "Injury prevention is important to that rule (change), but you also have the one-on-ones with guys running backward to block and other guys running forward. You could have some guys free to the football. We'll see how that plays out, but there will be no more four-man wedges."
SUNDAY PRACTICE NOTES
Center John Sullivan denied a statement made on the television coverage that he threw up due to nervousness on the team bus heading to the stadium Friday. While he did admit that he was nervous and had some pre-game butterflies, he never vomited.
Sunday's practice was threatening rain and, with a wet practice field, the team came out with no pads and shorts. The practice had the plug pulled after less than one hour.
One player who was happy to see the practice cut short was kicker Ryan Longwell. In the offseason, Longwell works out at the same facility as Tiger Woods and the two have formed a friendship over the years. Longwell was in attendance at Hazeltine Saturday as well and said he gave a head nod to his golfing buddy.
"He's got a lot of things going, so I definitely didn't want to bug him," Longwell said. "When you're playing in a major tournament like the PGA, you want to have to all your focus. We saw each other, but I didn't want to be pushy. He only had a one-shot lead, so I didn't want to be a distraction."
Sage Rosenfels got the day off. Childress said he was indoors working out in the pool. Rosenfels had his foot stepped on by a defensive lineman during the first quarter of Friday's game but played through the pain.
Tarvaris Jackson took the snaps with both the first- and second-unit offense.
When asked the health of Bernard Berrian, Childress simply said "fine," but followed up that he wasn't going to get into specifics, saying, "C'mon, it's preseason guys. You guys are going to have predict what the injuries are and what the magnitude of them are. How about some football questions?"
As was the case in Friday's game, both offensive linemen Sullivan and Phil Loadholt got extra reps in practice, running plays with both the first- and second-team offense.
Late in the practice, the Vikings' second- and third-team offenses went against the first-team defense – without much success.
Ben Leber got some time with the second-team defense at middle linebacker.
The Vikings will start their preparation for the Chiefs game Friday with a 1 p.m. practice tomorrow.