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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Special Teams Notebook: Battle For Punt-Returner; Progress Reports On Webb, Locke

Photo – Aj Mansour (KFAN)

By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
@SamEkstrom

Minneapolis, MN – As the preseason enters its second half, the Vikings’ position battles begin to look a little clearer.

As one might expect, there are spots to be taken on special teams, including the punt-return job. According to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, it’s a two-man race between incumbent Marcus Sherels and 22-year-old Bobby Felder, a 2012 practice squad member who went undrafted out of Nicholls State.

In Minnesota’s preseason loss at Buffalo, Felder returned three punts with a long return of 37 yards. It was his first time returning punts since his senior year of college.

“I kind of surprised myself with how calm I was back there,” Felder said.

Said Priefer before Wednesday’s practice, “[Felder]’s getting a shot. He got a shot the other night, and he’ll get another shot on Sunday.”

“He does a good job of catching it. He does what we ask him to do as far as hitting the return, how we want to get it set up and then hitting it. And breaking tackles like he did – he broke a couple tackles the other night, so he’s doing what we’re asking him to do.”

Felder echoed Priefer’s words, calling himself “versatile.”

“I just try to do whatever they want me to do,” said Felder, “whether that’s punt team, punt return; it don’t matter. I just try to get out there and do whatever they ask.

Felder will need to prove that he is an upgrade over the two-year return man Sherels, who has amassed over 500 punt-return yards since 2011 and scored a touchdown Week 4 of last season against Detroit.

“[Marcus] knows he has to win the job,” said Priefer. “You know Marcus. Everybody in here knows Marcus and his attitude and his work ethic and how he’s overcome a lot of adversity. He always welcomes that challenge, and he’s got to go out and prove himself again.”

Both Felder and Sherels still have hopes of making the 53-man roster even if they don’t land the job of punt returner. Felder has impressed coaches as a special teams gunner, while Sherels will likely find himself taking snaps in the Vikings’ nickel defense.

JOE WEBB STILL RAW

There’s no doubt Joe Webb is an incredible athlete, but the former back-up quarterback is still struggling to find a niche.

Since there may not be room for Webb as a wide receiver, Priefer has recently been trying to incorporate Webb as a gunner on special teams.

“I don’t know if he’s comfortable in anything yet,” said Priefer, “but I think he’s becoming more comfortable with all the techniques that we teach him at the gunner position.”

“I think athletically he can do a lot of these things, and it’s still a work in progress for him, to be quite honest. I like the direction in which he’s going. He’s worked very, very hard.”

Priefer said that Webb has never played special teams before, making the adjustment more difficult.

JEFF LOCKE LOOKING GOOD

Rookie punter Jeff Locke has a huge leg, which he’s shown multiple times at practice. However, it was his booming 61-yard punt at Buffalo that Priefer graded as Locke’s only “minus” punt of the game.

“It went in the air, and I went ‘Oh, no,’ because they had already had a 34-yarder,” said Priefer, who didn’t want Locke outkicking his coverage team again.

Nonetheless, Locke’s six plus-rated punts were enough to merit plenty of praise from his special teams coach.

“Jeff improved a lot from Game 1 to Game 2,” said Priefer.

“His field punts were much improved the other day, and hopefully we’ll keep going in that direction. He gained a lot of confidence because of that game. You could just tell as the game wore on, he felt good.”

Locke averaged about 10 yards more per punt against Buffalo than he did against Houston in the preseason-opener. Through 12 punts in two games, Locke has pinned five kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line.

 

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