A key component to the Vikings 7-1 record through 8 games in 2009 has been improved play from the special teams unit, specifically the coverage units and the return game. Those improvements, along with continued solid performances from both P Chris Kluwe and K Ryan Longwell, have helped the Vikings produce a more complete performance from all 3 phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams.
So far in 2009, the Vikings rank 2nd in kickoff return (up from 20th in 2008) average and 8th (up from 24th) in punt return average. Also, the Vikings rank 10th in average yards allowed per kickoff return (up from 21st in 2008).
Certainly individual performances have contributed to this improvement. Rookie Percy Harvin has jolted the kick return game and the return of LB Heath Farwell to the kick coverage units has infused experience, leadership and talent to the group.
But Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said on Monday that although players such as Farwell, Harvin and special teamers Kenny Onatolu and Karl Paymah have done well with their roles, the big difference is the collective attitude from the entire special teams group.
“I just think there has been great buy-in,” Childress said. “Brian (Murphy) and Chris White (assistant special teams coach) have done a great job of teaching those guys and that goes through the whole offseason.”
The Vikings special teams unit received a face-lift following the promotion of Murphy to special teams coordinator this past offseason and the subsequent addition of White and Jason Glenn as Murphy’s assistants. The special teams staff is in its 1st year together, but you wouldn’t know it from the progress that’s been made since the offseason.
“I just think they have been able to get their arms around those guys and have them have great understanding,” Childress said. “That is what you see, great understanding and awareness. Murph and his guys have done a nice job and the players have great buy in. The players are doing are great job of getting it on the field.”
Tags: Heath Farwell, Percy Harvin
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Vikings CB Antoine Winfield, who injured his foot and missed 2 games prior to last week’s bye, was not on the field with his teammates during the portion of practice open to the media on Monday.
But Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said he was able to make it outside during the portion of practice not open to the media and move around on his injured foot.
Childress didn’t disclose (and wasn’t asked) the extent of Winfield’s participation in practice but he did say the CB is “pushing as hard as he possibly can” to make it back.
Childress said moving around on a hard surface is the next step in Winfield’s recovery from the injury. When the Vikings and Lions kickoff on Sunday, it will be just short of a month since Winfield suffered the injury in the 1st half of the Ravens game in Week 6.
Tags: Antoine Winfield
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The Vikings put some distance between themselves and Winter Park this week as coaches and players got away from the facility for some rest and relaxation.
But with losses by the Bears, Lions and Packers, the Vikings were also able to put some more distance between themselves and the rest of the division.
Following a 38-26 victory over Green Bay in Week 8, the Vikings entered their bye week with a 2.5 game lead over both the Packers and Bears. Now the lead stands at 3 games after the Packers lost at Tampa Bay and the Bears fell at home to the Arizona Cardinals.
Because the Vikings hold tie-breaker priority over the Packers, the 3.5 game lead over Green Bay is effectively a 4-game lead. But since the Vikings have yet to play the Bears in 2009, the 3-game lead over Chicago should not be taken for granted.
After navigating the 1st half of their regular season schedule with a 7-1 record, the Week 9 bye came at a good time for the Vikings and now the team will return to work with fresh bodies and minds. Their 1st task this week will be to prepare for another NFC North game, as the Detroit Lions come to town for a contest on Sunday.
The Bears travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers on Thursday and Green Bay will host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
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