Spring drills are in full force for the Minnesota Vikings, and head coach Mike Zimmer said the players have been transitioning well with special teams drills. An area that has become a priority heading into next season.
Pioneer Press sports reporter Chris Tomasson caught up with Zimmer at a golf tournament hosted by the Mike Zimmer Foundation about the situation with Kyle Rudolph and managed to ask about the team’s progress early on.
#Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on spring drills so far: “Our guys have been doing a great job of special teams. I told them that’s a big priority for us this year. We need to get better.’’— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) May 13, 2019
It will be interesting to see who will take the kickoffs and punt returns since Marcus Sherels, the go-to punt returner departed for New Orleans. Sherels returned 23 punts for 276 yards, 12 yards per carry last season, which was fifth in the league. His longest in 2018 was against the Miami Dolphins for 70 yards.
There were two other players who returned punts. Brandon Zylstra and Mike Hughes had a combined six returns for 39 yards. One dark horse that could potentially fill Sherels’ void is undrafted free agent Davion Davis from Sam Houston State. He managed six punt returns for 48 yards. The six-foot, 189-pound receiver was named All-Southland Conference first-team punt returner. He was also named the Offensive Player of the Year in the SLC.
With running back Ameer Abdullah rejoining the Vikings, look for him to be one of the kick returners, along with Hughes. Abdullah had 10 returns for 258 yards. Hughes had four returns for 107 yards. Hopefully the return of the lethal cornerback will help boost the return game.
Jayron Kearse will look to fill that gunner role again, as he led the special teams with 18 tackles last season. The special teams coverage ranked fifth in 2018. Linebacker Ben Gedeon played a vital role as well by grabbing 13 tackles.
Minnesota hired a new special teams coordinator in January after former coach Mike Priefer headed to the Cleveland Browns as the special teams coach. Marwan Maalouf will be in charge of the special teams unit. He seems to be more aggressive in terms of play calling based on his track record.
Maalouf has 14 years of special teams experience. He’s spent the last six seasons with the Miami Dolphins before he made a stop in Minnesota. During his tenure with the Dolphins, his unit has racked up eight blocked punts and have held opposing kickers to only a 77 percent success rate.
Speaking of field goals, Maalouf kickers had an overall average field goal completion rate of 81 percent. However in the past two seasons kickers averaged 91 percent “It’s Good!” rate.
There will be voids to fill, Maalouf will have his hands full this off-season. It will be interesting to see how it all shapes out. SKOL!