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Vikings Boast Top-Ranked Special Teams Group

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 29, 2013 – 3:09 pm

Well-respected Dallas Morning News sports columnist Rick Gosselin has come out with his annual special teams rankings, and the Vikings came out on top. Gosselin, who covers all sports in his columns but is an especially astute football observer, ranks the NFL special teams groups each season and does so by ranking all 32 units in 22 categories and assigning points according to their standing – 1 for the best, 32 for the worst.

“Minnesota booted the most field goals, committed the fewest turnovers and allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season on special teams,” Gosselin wrote. Gosselin also noted that the Vikings finished in the top five in seven other categories and the top 10 in four more. Blair Walsh was the standout performer for the Vikings special teams group this season, converting 35 of 38 FG tries and hitting 10 of 10 attempts from 50+ yards. Walsh also set a team record for touchbacks and he finished the regular season with 141 points, the second-highest scoring season in team history.

Gosselin also credited Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer for the team’s improvement in this area, nothing that Priefer is a seccond generation special teams coach (his father, Chuck, coached 17 years in the NFL for Detroit and San Diego). Under Priefer’s direction, the Vikings special teams group vaulted from 29th in 2011 to 1st this year, which represents the best single-season improvement in the 33-year history of the rankings. The Vikings finshed with 253.5 points, and the next closest team in the rankings was the Cincinnait Bengals at 276.

Here’s a link to the full rankings, but the content is behind a paywall so you’ll have to pony up some coin in order to see the entire piece. Here’s a list of the 22 categories Gosselin uses in his rankings: kickoff return, punt return, kickoff coverage, punt coverage, average starting field position after kickoff, opponent’s average starting field position after kickoff, punting, net punting, inside-the-20 punts, opponent’s punting, opponent’s net punting, field goals, field goal percentage, opponent’s field goal percentage, extra point percentage, points scored, points allowed, blocked kicks, blocked kicks allowed, takeaways, giveaways and penalties.


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Division Rival Bears Hire Former Vikings Assistant As New Head Coach

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 16, 2013 – 7:14 am

The NFC North will welcome a new head coach to the mix in 2013, as the Chicago Bears have concluded their extensive search by hiring for NFL assistant and Canadian Football League (CFL) head coach Marc Trestman. A coach at the major college and professional level since 1981, including a pair of stints with the Vikings, Trestman brings with him a wealth of coaching experience and offensive acumen to the Windy City and will be the 14th  head coach in Chicago Bears history.

Trestman spent the previous 5 seasons as head coach of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, where he was named CFL Coach of the Year in 2009 and won back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010. Prior to his success in the CFL, Trestman was an NFL assistant for 17 seasons. He was the Vikings RBs coach in 1985 and 1986, and then returned to the Vikings in 1990 and 1991 as QBs coach. His best work may have come in San Francisco in 1995 and 1996, though. He was San Francisco’s Offensive Coordinator and QBs coach in 1995 when the 49ers led the NFL with 457 points and 4,779 passing yards, working closely with a pair of Hall of Famers in Steve Young, who threw for 3,200 yards and 20 TDs, and Jerry Rice, who caught 122 passes for an NFL-record 1,848 yards and 15 TDs.

As Vikings fans surely know, Trestman is not the first former CFL coach to join the NFL. Perhaps the greatest figure in Vikings history, Bud Grant, spent 10 years as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ head coach before taking the head coaching job in Minnesota in 1967. Also, former Buffalo Bills Head Coach Marv Levy came to the NFL from the CFL.

There were reports that a pair of current Vikings assistants – Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and Special Assistant to the Head Coach/co-LBs coach Mike Singletary – both interviewed for the Bears head coaching vacancy.


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Will Cobb’s Availability Impact Vikings Approach?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 28, 2012 – 7:28 am

The Packers have 13 players listed on this week’s injury report, many of them key players. Many of those key players are making progress and should be available for Sunday’s season finale against the Vikings.

K Mason Crosby (illness) and G Josh Sitton (concussion) went from not practicing on Wednesday to being limited on Thursday, and C Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee) and DEs CJ Wilson (knee) and Jerel Worthy (hamstring) went from limited on Wednesday to full participants on Thursday. On top of that, WR Jordy Nelson looks to be on track to play after missing the past 3 games with a hamstring injury.

Another important name to watch with regard to availability on Sunday is Randall Cobb. He injured his ankle on a 3rd quarter punt return during last week’s win over Tennessee, forcing him out of the game. Listed on the injury report with a knee and ankle injury, Cobb practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday. Earlier in the week, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said the team would test Cobb’s knee on Friday to gauge his availability for Sunday.

“I think it’s a possibility,” Cobb told Packers.com on Thursday after he observed practice. “We’re going to take it day by day and see where we are on Sunday.”

If Cobb is on the sidelines rather than on the field Sunday, it will help the Vikings. Cobb averages 25.4 yards per kickoff return and 9.4 yards per punt return, both solid numbers. In fact, Cobb is the caliber of returner that the Vikings could alter their approach on kickoffs based on Cobb’s status. If Cobb plays, the Vikings may elect to have K Blair Walsh attempt to blast his kickoffs out of the end zone for touchbacks. If Cobb doesn’t play, perhaps the Vikings will elect to have Walsh put hang time under his kicks, land them just inside the goal line, and then rely on the coverage team to make a play – something they’ve done frequently this season, as illustrated by the fact that no one has returned a kickoff past the 25-yardline against the Vikings since October 7.

How the Vikings approach kickoffs this week, whether Cobb plays or not, remains to be seen. And Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer did not tip his hand on Thursday.

“Randall Cobb is a great returner,” Priefer said. “I know he’s a little banged up right now, but I expect him to play. I would expect him to be back there because this game is big for them as well. I think touchbacks are fine with a returner like that, but we’re going to kick it high and deep and we’re going to cover them and when he brings them out we have to be there to make the play.”

Also keep in mind, this season has been Cobb’s best on offense. He ranks 1st on Green Bay in receptions (80), targets (104), receiving yards (954) and 20-yard receptions (17).

Expect some news to develop on Friday afternoon regarding Cobb’s availability. But it won’t be a surprise if the Packers wait until 90 minutes prior to kickoff before making public their decision on whether Cobb will play or not.


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The Hard Count, Paying Felton’s Fee & A Great Decision In Houston

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 27, 2012 – 1:54 pm

As they do each Thursday before a Sunday game, the three Vikings coordinators met with reporters inside the Winter Park field house. Here are a few of the notable discussion points from each of their conversations…

The Hard Count
One of the nuances fans can pick up by watching games on television is the different cadences of QBs across the NFL. Many QBs have non-descript cadences, but some have a distinct pattern and/or tone. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is one with a distinct cadence, and it caused the Vikings some trouble in the Week 13 game at Lambeau Field.

In going through that game’s play-by-play, I counted 5 times in which the Vikings were flagged for defensive offsides. Some of those penalties were declined, some were accepted. But all of them were because of how good Rodgers is at what they call the “hard count” to try and draw the defense across the line before the snap, sometimes resulting in a “free play” for the offense and often times resulting in a 5-yard penalty.

“You’ll see time and time again the defenses that are jumping offsides in the neutral zone,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams noted on Thursday. “We want to make sure we key the ball and get off on the ball and not any voice reflections and that type of thing.”

Working on this is nothing new for NFL teams. The Vikings have made that a focus of practice every week of the season, it’s just that Rodgers is better than most at drawing opponents offsides.

“He’s one of the masters at it,” Williams said of Rodgers, “and we have to make sure that we hold our water and not jump and shoot ourselves in the foot because we did do that the last time we played them.”

Paying Felton’s Fee
Vikings FB Jerome Felton was named to his first Pro Bowl on Wednesday, a well-deserved honor for the hardworking 5th-year pro. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave was asked a few questions about his all-star fullback, and within one of the answers he provided a funny story from his time in Jacksonville.

“When I was in Jacksonville, James Harris, our General Manager, used to say you have to pay the fullback’s fee at times for all that blocking that they do,” Musgrave explained. “It’s nice to hand them a belly every once in a while, a dive, throw the ball out there to him in the flat. We haven’t paid Jerome his fee very often and he continues to do a good job.”

No Problem In Houston
A key moment in last week’s win over the Houston Texans came in the 4th quarter, with the Vikings leading 16-6 and facing a 4th and 9 from the Houston 40. For most teams, that’s an automatic punting situation. But with Blair Walsh on the team, the Vikings aren’t most team. Earlier in the game, Walsh blasted a 56-yard FG through the pipes, giving him a NFL-record 9 FGs of over 50 yards on the season.

Had the Vikings decided to trot Walsh and Co. out onto the field from the 40, it would’ve been about a 58-yard try that, if converted, would’ve extended the Vikings lead to 19-6. If it was off the mark or short, Houston would’ve taken over at their own 40 trailing by 10 with roughly 12:30 to play.

The Vikings decided to punt. And the decision paid off.

“Coach (Frazier) and I talked about that,” Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer explained. “And the risk-reward, the risk was higher than the reward at that point in my opinion. The way our defense was playing, he and I talked about it, he made a great call and a great decision on going ahead and punting it there in that situation. Because of the situation, the way our defense was playing, pin them back deep and let’s go. Kluwe had a great punt, Josh Robinson made a really nice play for us.”

Kluwe’s punt landed at around the 5 and Robinson sped down the field to down it at the 1. Houston went 3-and-out, punted the ball away, and the Vikings offense marched onto the field and then marched down the field on a 10-play, 64-yard TD scoring drive that was capped by a 1-yard Toby Gerhart plunge. The score put the Vikings ahead 23-6, the drive took 6:01 off the game clock, and the decision to punt rather than try a 58-yard FG turned out to be the right one.


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The Forgotten Phase: Vikings Special Teams Group Key In Sunday’s Win

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 11, 2012 – 7:17 am

Special teams is often the forgotten about phase of football. But it’s been hard to miss the Vikings special teams performance this season, especially with the Vikings being just one of eight teams with both a punt return and kickoff return TD and with rookie K Blair Walsh ready to set the team rookie scoring mark and already having set a team single-season touchback record.

In Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bears, a team known for having spectacular special teams play annually, it was the Vikings special teams group that continued to make a difference.

Walsh continued to execute well on kickoffs. He’s already proven to have a powerful leg with 41 touchbacks through 13 games. But now the Vikings are displaying some variety in their kickoff game plan by asking Walsh to put some hang time on his kickoffs so the coverage team can run down and tackle returners inside the 20. The Vikings executed that plan to perfection on Sunday, keeping Bears kickoff returner Eric Weems from crossing the 20-yardline on all 4 of his attempts.

Speaking of keeping teams inside the 20, Vikings P Chris Kluwe did just that twice on Sunday. In fact, his 2 punts inside the 20 were downed at the 5 and the 3. The Bears were forced to punt after 6 plays on one of those drives and then turned the ball over on downs on the other series. Kluwe had 7 punts on the afternoon, and 5 of them were returned by the ever-dangerous Devin Hester. But Hester was not dangerous on Sunday. He did surpass his season average for punt returns, but he wasn’t able to break off a long enough return to flip the field position, which he’s done so many times against the Vikings over the years.

When all was said and done, Chicago’s average drive start was their own 21, and their average drive start after a kickoff was their own 14. When Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer’s group puts up numbers like that, it puts Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams’ and Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave’s group in better position to succeed.


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10 Takes Through 10 Games

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 20, 2012 – 11:36 am

On Wednesday we’ll throw our entire focus toward Sunday’s contest against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Before we do that, though, let’s take one last chance to reflect on what’s happened over the first 10 games of the Vikings season.

This was the topic of last week’s Wobcast, as I explained my 10 takes through 10 weeks…

10. Vikings are in the playoff hunt!
A strong 4-1 start and a key win against Detroit heading into the bye has placed the Vikings in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC. It’s quite a treat for Vikings fans to be in this position after watching their team go 9-23 the past 2 seasons. Kudos to GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Leslie Frazier for turning this organization around and heading in the right direction. The Vikings are 6-4 overall, 2-0 in the division and 4-3 in the NFC. If the playoffs started right now, the Vikings would miss it because of tie-breakers to Seattle and Tampa Bay. But the playoffs don’t start right now, so we’ll get to see if the Vikings can overcome a few teams over the next 6 weeks.

9. Dome-field advantage has returned
The Vikings were just 1-7 at home last year and suffered to a 3-13 season. This year, the Vikings dome-field advantage has returned. They are 4-1 in home games, and a big reason for that is the Mall of America Field crowd. Frazier compliments Vikings fans after each game and is genuine in his praise. He’s coached against and played against the Vikings in that building and respects the difference the home crowd can make. Good job, fans. Thanks for helping us gain that incredible dome-field advantage.

8. Youth, health has led to improvement in pass defense
The Vikings pass defense has taken a huge step forward in 2012. They were 26th in yards allowed last season and were 14th in that category after 10 games this season. What’s been the key? It’s been health and youth. CBs Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook missed 21 games combined last season, but this year they both started and remained healthy for most of the team’s first 10 games. Cook is dealing with an arm injury now, but young guys are stepping up in his absence. AJ Jefferson and this year’s 3rd-round pick – Josh Robinson – have filled the void well. Also, Harrison Smith is playing the safety position like we haven’t seen in years from a Vikings safety.

7. Percy has no mercy on opposing defenses
Simply put, I think Percy Harvin is the most dangerous offensive weapon among non-QBs in the NFL. He has 100 touches through 10 games – that’s receptions, rushes and returns – and he’s averaging 13.4 yards per touch with 5 TDs. Harvin is the best kickoff returner in the NFL, one of the best receivers in the NFL, and a good runner. There are not many (any?) better all-around threats in the NFL.

6. Vikings special teams have been outstanding, and deserve more credit
– Often times special teams is the neglected phase of football. But special teams has not been neglected by the Vikings, and in fact I’d submit that special teams has been key to the Vikings success this year. Heck, the Vikings special teams basically single-handedly won a game this year – Detroit – Week 4. A bunch of credit goes to Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White for the work they’ve done together over the past two seasons. Through 10 games, the Vikings ranked 2nd in average drive start, 4th in kickoff return, 2nd in touchbacks on kickoffs and 9th in punt return. Special teams is something fans complain about when it’s going poorly, but forget about when it’s going well. Let’s take a moment during to appreciate the Vikings special teams play to this point. Bravo, guys.

To see the final 5 takes, which includes bold talk about Adrian Peterson and Blair Walsh, check out last week’s Wobcast.


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WR Status Check: Percy Harvin (Ankle) And Calvin Johnson (Knee)

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 9, 2012 – 7:58 am

Earlier this week we listed the 7 Vikings-Lions storylines we’d be following this week, so with Friday upon us and kickoff just two days away, let’s check in on the #1 storyline: Harvin’s Ankle, Megatron’s Knee. Percy Harvin leads the NFL in receptions with 62 and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is arguable the NFL’s best player at the position. But neither has practiced this week due to injuries, and it will have a profound impact on Sunday’s game.

Of the two receivers, Johnson stands the best chance to play. He’s dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of practice all of last week. The time away from practice didn’t seem to bother the All-Pro, as he came down with 7 receptions for 129 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Johnson has been held out of practice this week, too, but the smart money is on him playing. And if he’s playing, he’s dangerous.

There’s been another element added to this mix of late, though. According to a report from Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Johnson told reporters on Thursday that he’s dealing with nerve damage that is making it harder for him to grip the football. Johnson pointed to a pair of hits from the Lions Week 4 game against the Vikings that is causing the issue.

As for Harvin, he has not been ruled out but he did call himself a “longshot” to play. Harvin suffered an ankle injury last week in Seattle, but was able to finish the game. Harvin spoke with reporters earlier in the week while leaning on crutches, causing many to speculate that the NFL’s leading receiver will be unavailable for Sunday’s game.

I’m not in the business of speculating whether or not a guy will play despite an injury. The Vikings have a bye following this Sunday’s game, so keeping Harvin out of this week’s game would essentially give him nearly three full weeks between his injury and the next ball game. But Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after practice on Thursday that if Harvin is healthy enough to play, he’ll play. Also keep in mind that Harvin is as tough a player as there is, so if there’s even the slightest bit of chance he can play, Harvin will be angling to get out there.

If he plays, that’s great news for the Vikings. If he doesn’t play, the Vikings will have about 11 touches to distribute to other players. Harvin has 100 touches through 9 games this season, which averages out to 11.1 touches per game. In this week’s Wobcast – where Cris Carter is featured as the guest – I pointed to three players who could see a few more touches if Harvin doesn’t play: WR Jarius Wright and TEs John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph.

Harvin also has a role on special teams as the Vikings kickoff returner, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Priefer said a number of guys could step into that role if Harvin is unable to play. Marcus Sherels, the Vikings starting punt returner, can do it, as can Wright, WR Stephen Burton and CBs A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson.


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Vikings, Seahawks High Performers On Special Teams

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2012 – 9:57 am

There are a lot of interesting subplots to this week’s Vikings-Seahawks matchup – the NFL’s two leading rushers (Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch) go toe-to-toe, a pair of up-and-coming QBs (Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson) look to keep progressing, two of the NFL’s best pass-rushers (Jared Allen and Chris Clemons) go against two of the NFL’s best LTs (Matt Kalil and Russell Okung), etc.

We detailed those three as well as five additional storylines on Wednesday morning.

But one subplot we didn’t mention that is certainly noteworthy is the matchup between the Vikings and Seahawks special teams groups. All NFL clubs take special teams seriously, but some groups are consistently among the NFL’s best. In recent seasons, the Vikings and Seahawks could be included in this group.

There’s no question Mike Priefer has made a difference in the Vikings special teams performnace since he joined Leslie Frazier’s staff prior to the 2011 season. Percy Harvin has continued to be arguably the NFL’s top kickoff returner and K Blair Walsh has made a quick and profound impact in his rookie season. Seattle Special Teams Coordinator Brian Schneider is now in his 3rd season on Pete Carroll’s staff, and under his guidence the Seahawks have led the NFL in blocked kicks the past two seasons.

Mike Priefer

Both coordinator’s have found success once again in 2012, and it’s making a difference for their teams. The special teams group that can outperform the other in Sunday’s game will contribute significantly to the outcome of the game. It will be a fun subplot to watch.

Here are a few facts about how the Vikings and Seahawks special teams have fared so far in 2012…

– The Vikings are one of just three teams to register both a kickoff return TD (Percy Harvin) and a punt return TD (Marcus Sherels) this season.

– The Vikings rank #2 (25.3) and the Seahawks rank #9 (23.6) in average starting position after a kickoff.

– Harvin ranks #2 (35.7) in the NFL and Seattle returner Leon Washington ranks #5 (29.8) in the NFL in kickoff return average.

– Walsh is tied for 1st in the NFL with 31 touchbacks.

– Seattle ranks #1 in the NFL in opponents average starting position after kickoff (19.4).

– Seattle ranks #4 in opponents kickoff return average (20.6).

– The Vikings rank #7 in opponents punt return average (6.2).


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Special Teams Make Profound Impact For Vikings In Victory

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 1, 2012 – 8:45 am

Given how the imbalance of attention devoted to defense/offense over special teams, the number of special teams snaps in a given NFL game comes as a surprise to many. For instance, in the Vikings victory over Detroit on Sunday there were 28 special teams snaps. With that being the case, it’s easy to see why special teams has such a direct impact on the outcome of each NFL game.

Let’s take a look at several key moments for the Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer’s group in Sunday’s win…

Percy Harvin returns opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD: Percy Harvin has been an invaluable player for the Vikings offense in 2012. To open Sunday’s game against Detroit, he reminded everyone just how invaluable he is on special teams, too. Harvin fielded the opening kick 5 yards deep and started the return going to the left before veering quickly to the right. Setting up his blocks perfectly, which he does so well, Harvin gained the corner of the blocking scheme and outsprinted the Lions coverage group down the sideline.

Marcus Sherels weaves his way to 77-yard punt return TD: On the day he celebrated his 25th birthday, Marcus Sherels stood underneath a Detroit punt early in the 3rd quarter with the Lions coverage group bearing down on him. With teammate Percy Harvin having already registered a return TD of his own, Sherels would not be outdone. He caught the punt, immediately took a hit below the knees from a Lions defender, kept his balance and then began weaving his way up the gut of the Lions coverage team. After darting in and out several times and bouncing away from another defender, Sherels made one last cut to the left and sprinted down the Vikings sideline to register a 77-yard return that was ultimately the game-winning score.

Kluwe flips field position: The power of a punter. You wouldn’t think they have much, but because of their ability to flip the field position battle, they do. And Kluwe used his power judiciously against the Lions. There are two punts in particular that standout to me because they had the combination of result and timing that profoundly impacted the game. The first punt came at the end of the 2nd quarter, with the Vikings leading 13-6 and trying to get to the locker room with the lead. Kluwe booted the ball with around 29 seconds to play, plenty of time for Lions QB Matthew Stafford to put his team in position for a last-second FG. But Kluwe’s punt sailed 52 yards from the Vikings 26 to the Lions 22. On top of that, it had enough hang time for the Vikings coverage team to run down and tackle punt returner Stefan Logan for a loss of 1 yard. The Lions were then unable to try a last-second scoring attempt to close the half. The second standout punt came at the end of the game, with the Vikings leading 20-13 and 1:53 to go, again plenty of time for Stafford and Co. to drive down and score. Kluwe’s punt was high and 47 yards deep. It landed inside the 10, took a left-hand turn, and was downed by the Vikings coverage team at the 2. That made it tough for the Lions to dig out of their own territory, and ultimately Stafford ran out of time at the end of the game.

Touchbacks: Rookie K Blair Walsh had looked nothing like a rookie through his first three games, and his performance in Detroit fell in line as well. While he did miss a 46-yard try wide left, Walsh was 2 of 3 on the day and hit FGs of 49 and 27 yards to salvage scoring drives. Just as importantly, though, has been Walsh’s performance on kickoffs. That continued in Detroit as well. Walsh kicked off 5 times in the game, and all 5 resulted in touchbacks. Walsh now has 12 touchbacks on the season, an impressive number considering the Vikings had 19 in all of 2012.


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Young Kicker Walsh Meets Great Kicker Hanson This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 27, 2012 – 4:54 pm

Viking Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer has had a great deal of success in his brief time working with rookie K Blair Walsh. Through three regular season games, Walsh is a perfect 7 of 7 on FG tries and his 15 touchbacks this year are already approaching the Vikings total (19) from all of last season.

Walsh has made routine kicks – he’s 3 of 3 from within 39 yards. Walsh has made long kicks – he’s the first kicker in franchise history to have a FG of 50+ yards in 3 consecutive games.  And Walsh has made clutch kicks – a 55-yarder to send the game into overtime and a 38-yarder to win the game in overtime against Jacksonville in Week 1.

Things are definitely looking up for Walsh in his young career. But how great can Walsh be? We don’t know, yet. The Vikings 6th-round kicker has only played in 3 games. But the Vikings opponent this week – the Detroit Lions – have a kicker on their roster whom Walsh should admire – Jason Hanson.

Priefer himself pointed this out, paying perhaps the highest compliment possible to a NFL player.

“Nothing he does any more surprises me,” Priefer said. “He’s kind of like a Hall of Fame-type guy to me. I know they haven’t had a lot of great teams in the past there. He’s been on a few good ones and obviously, lately, very good. But to me, he’s a Hall of Fame-type performer.”

Hanson, who turned 42 in June, is now in his 21st season and is the Lions all-time scoring leader with 2,053 points. He is only the sixth player in NFL history to connect on 400 career field goals and the eighth to make 600 PATs. With a 50-yarder vs. San Diego in December of 2011, Hanson became the first player in NFL history with 50 FGs of 50+ yards. He holds the NFL record for the most games played by one player with one team (310), and he is the first player in NFL history to play 300 games with one franchise.

The superlatives on Hanson could go on and on. Even so, Hanson managed to do something last week that even he, in 20+ NFL seasons, had only done 12 times before – he punted. Ben Graham, who was the Lions punter, was injured during last week’s game and was forced out of action. The Lions called on Hanson to fill in, and he stepped up to the challenge.

“He’s amazing,” Priefer said. “What an athlete, too. To come in and punt the ball like he did last week with those three punts. And I read somewhere he didn’t think they were good punts. I thought they were outstanding punts. They were high, short, really un-returnable, fair catch balls, and had one inside the 20.”

Vikings fans should be excited about their young kicker and the success he’s had through three games. And while it’s too early to start comparing him to all-time greats or even current solid professionals, it is exciting to see what Walsh is doing when you consider the kind contributions Hanson has given to the Lions over the course of two decades.


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