Marcus Sherels once again battling for spot on punt returns
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels is the embodiment of the underdog.
Sherels was a walk-on for the University of Minnesota's football team before earning a scholarship, he went undrafted in 2010 before sneaking onto the Vikings practice squad the following season and after the Vikings drafted receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round -- he's battling for his job once again as punt returner.
"I don't really think about it anymore," Sherels said after Friday's walkthrough. "It's been a long road for me, but I wouldn't do anything different."
Sherels' first NFL touchdown, a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown at Detroit last season, proved to be the difference in a 20-13 win.
But the Rochester, Minn. native muffed two punts last season, losing one, and made a poor decision in taking a ball eight-yards deep out of the endzone that set up a late first-half score against the Indianapolis Colts. Sherels has also been a liability when he subs in on defense, allowing 13 of 15 passes thrown his way to be completed a year ago.
Special teams coach Mike Priefer said Sherels is the punt returner until he's outplayed and one week of training camp so far isn't enough to tell his role going forward.
"[Sherels] is catching the ball better than maybe anyone I've been around," Priefer said. "After a week of camp, I would say he's the front runner. I'm always looking for people, because you never know. Is he going to be there on game day? Is he going to get hurt? Because things happen in a game."
Patterson's quickness and ability to change direction has been well documented, but the rookie became the second University of Tennessee player in history to return a kickoff and punt for touchdowns in the same season as he did last year.
"[Patterson and I] talk back and forth about mechanics of catching the ball and he's done a good job out there," Sherels said. "We're all out there competing, trying to make each other better. We root each other on, he roots me on."
Priefer said Sherels' role on special teams extends beyond punt returner.
"He does everything the way that we ask him to do it. He covers kickoffs...he can play gunner, he's a backup kickoff returner. He could be our kickoff returner, like when he took over after Percy [Harvin] got hurt last year," Priefer said. "I know he's undersized, and I know that he's not the fastest guy out there, but he's faster than what most people think."
More than three years ago, Sherels ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at Minnesota's pro day and said that's one of his main strengths.
"I'm a pretty quick player. I'm obviously small, so I have to be quick," Sherels said. "[In the offseason,] I just worked on my fundamentals, out there catching balls, getting in the weight room and making sure I'm stronger."