Yesterday, we brought you the news that long-time Minnesota Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels was leaving the team to sign a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints. The purpose of this particular post is two-fold.
First, I wanted to share this Marcus Sherels highlight video that the artist known as “funkydunkleman” put together after last season. It’s pretty sweet and gives us quite a few of the big plays that Sherels provided over his time with the Vikings as a punt returner, not just the touchdowns.
In the wake of the news yesterday, I said on the Twitters that I hoped that the Vikings had a solid plan in place to replace Sherels, and I was surprised by at least some of the replies that had sort of a “we can just throw anyone back there” mentality. I strongly disagree with that assessment, and I think that the loss of Sherels could, potentially, be as big as any loss this team has this offseason.
Punt returning is not something that just anyone can do, and certainly not at a high level. Over the course of the past decade, the Vikings have been blessed with a couple of the best kickoff returners in recent history in Percy Harvin and Cordarrelle Patterson. Given the number of moments that they provided us, it’s easy to see that they had the ability to be great kick return artists.
Over the course of their NFL careers, those two men have combined for a total of one punt return. Why? Because returning punts is a whole different animal and requires a whole different skill set than returning kickoffs does. I remember the Vikings trying to get Harvin prepped to return punts during a couple of preseasons, but he never wound up doing it. That’s because there’s more to it than just sticking a fast guy back there and assuming that he can do the job. There’s as much involved before the catch as there is afterwards. Sherels showed that he had that ability to know when he had the opportunity to make something happen and when to just throw his hand up and take the fair catch.
Remember those games that Sherels missed this past season and the Vikings were putting guys like Chad Beebe and Brandon Zylstra back there? And it took about one punt for all of us to start holding our breath every time the opposing team brought on their punter because we weren’t quite sure what was going to happen? Yeah. . .we didn’t have that issue with Marcus Sherels back there. In his eight years as the Vikings’ punt returner, Sherels also averaged about one fumble per year, which is not a bad rate for punt returners, all things considered.
Do the Vikings have guys on their current roster that they can plug into the punt return spot? Well, yeah, they do. We know that Mike Hughes returned punts in college, and could slide into that role again. . .unless his role in the defense increases, in which case I don’t think Mike Zimmer would want to risk him in that capacity. I’m sure that there are some other players on the roster with that sort of experience, too.
But until someone in a purple jersey shows that they have the ability to do the job to the level that Sherels did it, it’s hard for me to chalk this up as anything but a significant loss. I suppose there’s a chance I might be making too big a deal about this, but I honestly don’t think that I am.