Notebook: Bigger, more confident Marcus Sherels coming into his own
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The speed and quickness was obvious the first time Marcus Sherels stepped on the Minnesota Vikings' practice field, during a mass tryout at the team's rookie camp in April 2010.
There was only one problem.
"He was so thin and frail when we got him at the 'call of the wild' deal," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier recalled on Friday, "you just didn't know if he'd be able to hold up at our level."
The Vikings signed Sherels anyway, then waived the Rochester native and former Gophers cornerback in their final roster reduction last September. Sherels subsequently had two stints on the practice squad, was promoted to the active roster for the season finale and went away for the offseason knowing to get on the field, he had to get bigger.
So, Sherels spent the offseason lifting weights, sucking down protein shakes and eating five meals a day. He returned with 175 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame -- up from 162 at the end of last season -- and was one of the Vikings' training camp standouts, earning the starting punt-return job.
"It's all about taking coaching and learning," Sherels said, "trying to get better every day."
The biggest play of his young career came in Sunday's loss to Detroit -- a 53-yard punt return that set up a touchdown late in the first half.
"He came back this year, put on a little bit more weight, still had the same quickness, still had the same football IQ that you look for," Frazier said. "But his confidence level has really grown from when we had him on the practice squad now."
Sherels' return was the Vikings' longest on a punt since Bernard Berrian's 82-yard touchdown on Dec. 14, 2008, against Arizona.
It also atoned for Sherels' fair catch at the 4-yard line on Ryan Donahue's previous boot -- "a bonehead play," said Sherels, whose interception after fumbling a punt return in the Vikings' preseason game on Aug. 20 at Seattle helped seal his place on the roster.
Through three games, Sherels is tied for 10th in the NFL with a 13.8-yard average on eight punt returns. He also has four tackles (three solo) on coverage units.
The next step for Sherels will be playing on defense, although there's no rush as long as he's making plays on special teams.
"He's a guy who, if something were to happen to one of our starters, we wouldn't hesitate to put him in at that nickel position," Frazier said. "He's shown that he's capable of doing it. His size doesn't scare you as much as it once did."
Frazier and Jimmy Kleinsasser downplayed the elbow injury that landed Kleinsasser on the injury report this week.
"It's nothing," said Kleinsasser, who hasn't missed a game since blowing out a knee in the 2004 opener. "It's fine."
That's good news for the Vikings, who leaned on Kleinsasser's versatility when they decided not to keep a fullback on the 53-man roster. Kleinsasser has played 24 "F" snaps this season -- the vast majority when the Vikings use an I-formation.
"He's not only a quality tight end that can catch the football, but he's an excellent blocker on the line of scrimmage," Frazier said. "He can block most defensive ends one-on-one, and then we're able to put him back at the fullback position, which is why we don't really carry a fullback on our 46-man roster."
Kleinsasser is probable for Sunday's game at Kansas City, as are halfback Adrian Peterson (calf), cornerback Asher Allen (toe), cornerback Chris Cook (groin), safety Tyrell Johnson (hip) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (foot).
Receiver Percy Harvin wasn't on the injury report at all despite leaving Sunday's game and throwing up on the sideline after taking a big hit on a late kickoff.
"We haven't had any setbacks this week," Frazier said. "He's practiced, taken every rep, and he's been fine."
Asked if Harvin will continue splitting kick-return reps with halfback Lorenzo Booker, Frazier said, "Yeah, we'll see how it goes. We'd like for Percy to take as many as he can, but we'll see how things are going."
The Vikings' trio of second-half collapses is getting some attention from bookmakers.
The Bodog Sportsbook released odds on how many times the Vikings will blow a double-digit lead the read of the season (over/under 1½) and whether they do it on Sunday at Kansas City (no is favored at -1,200, yes at +650).
Bodog had the Vikings odds for winning the Super Bowl at 40-to-1 before the season. Three losses later, the Vikings are 200-to-1.