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Patterson, Sherels Highlight Outstanding Season For Vikings Specialists

Posted Jan 30, 2014

Over the last two weeks we’ve taken a position-by-position look at the performance and production of the Vikings roster in 2013.

PHOTOS: "Best Of" Special Teams In 2013 >>

In Mike Priefer’s three seasons as special teams coordinator in Minnesota, the Vikings as a team have yielded varying results, registering an 18-27 record and going to the playoffs once in that span. One thing that has not varied for the Vikings over the past three seasons, however, has been special teams play. Under Priefer’s guidance, the Vikings have boasted one of the NFL’s top special teams groups as a whole, and 2013 represented yet another outstanding season in that area. Remarkably, the Vikings committed just one penalty on kickoff return all season and just five penalties on punt return, including just one in the season’s final nine games.

The highlight of this past season’s special teams output was the performance of the team’s kickoff return and punt return groups, specifically the production the Vikings realized from kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson and punt returner Marcus Sherels. Patterson broke a franchise record with 1,393 kickoff return yards and his 32.4-yard average was the best in the NFL, set a new team record and was the fourth-highest in NFL history since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Sherels broke a team record and finished second in the NFL with a 15.2 punt return average on 21 returns, and together Patterson and Sherels scored three touchdowns on returns.

Since 2011, Priefer’s first year in Minnesota, the Vikings are tied with the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans for the most combined kick return touchdowns with six (four kickoff returns, two punt returns), and the four kickoff return touchdowns rank first in the NFL in that time.

Aside from Patterson and Sherels, credit should go to Priefer’s scheme and the Vikings 10 other players on the field for the return game. Without that combination of factors, Patterson and Sherels would have a more difficult time pushing the ball out and giving the offense good field position. It should also be noted that the Vikings had 12 others besides Patterson field a kickoff, a testament to the respect opponents had for Patterson. Outside of a fumble by Sharrif Floyd in Week 7, those 12 players fielded the kicks cleanly and setup the offense with sound field position.

A close second behind the performance of the Vikings return groups was the continued improvement and generally solid play from rookie punter Jeff Locke. Perhaps emboldened by hitting it big with a rookie place kicker in Blair Walsh the year prior (he was a sixth-round choice), the Vikings selected Locke with a fifth-round pick in 2013. After an uneven first several weeks, Locke turned it on midway through the season and finished his rookie campaign well, authoring a net average of 39.2, putting just three punts in the end zone for touchbacks and landing 23 of his punts inside the 20.

After putting together a spectacular rookie season that included game-winning kicks in both Week 1 and Week 17 (to put his team in the playoffs) as well as a 10 for 10 mark on 50-yard field goals, Walsh was solid in 2013 and displayed resiliency and toughness while kicking through the first injury of his pro career. Walsh hit on 26 of 30 field goals and, while power may be his main attribute on kickoffs, he continued to work on his kickoff placement on the season progressed.

The Vikings young kicking battery of Locke and Walsh is fortified by veteran long snapper Cullen Loeffler, who was as healthy in 2013 as he’s been in three seasons and put together what Priefer has called his most consistent season since 2011. Loeffler is a longtime Viking and is showing no signs of decline.

There are certainly improvements to make to the Viking special team group as a whole; Priefer is never one to be satisfied with his own work. But generally speaking, special teams is a strength of the Vikings and figures to remain as such heading into 2014 thanks specifically to young talent at key positions (kickers and returners) and one of the more respected coordinators in the NFL. 

On the Roster
Cullen Loeffler:
Jeff Locke:
75 punts for 3,316 yards (44.2) with a 39.2 net average; 23 punts I20, 3 TBs in 16 games
Cordarrelle Patterson: 43 KO returns for 1,393 yards (32.4) and 2 TDs
Marcus Sherels:
22 punt returns for 335 yards (15.2) and 1 TD
Blair Walsh:
26 of 30 on FGs and 43 of 44 on PATs; 86 KOs with 44 TBs in 16 games

Season In Review Articles
Running Backs >>
Defensive Line >>
Tight Ends >>
Defensive Backs >>
Quarterbacks >>
Wide Receivers >>
Cornerbacks >>
Linebackers >>