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Updated: November 25th, 2011 5:36pm
Notebook: Coordinator planning to make changes on special teams

Notebook: Coordinator planning to make changes on special teams

by Judd Zulgad
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The Minnesota Vikings plan to make some alterations on their special teams units for Sunday's game at Atlanta after a few too many rocky moments the past two weeks.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Friday that he plans to "move some people around," and, "kind of shake it up a little bit," coming off losses to Green Bay and Oakland.

"It's inexcusable some of the things that have been happening and you guys saw that on Sunday," he said. "It just came to a head in turns of a turnover, or losing contain on a kickoff, or dropping a field-goal snap.

"That's just stuff that you look around the league, that just doesn't happen. At least not all at once in one game. That was the really frustrating part about it."

That doesn't mean any roster moves are forthcoming, but it does mean there likely will be some changes when it comes to which players are on certain special teams units and where they are positioned.

Priefer can't be blamed for being unhappy with what he saw last Sunday in the Vikings' 27-21 loss to Oakland at the Metrodome.

Among the miscues: Chris Kluwe dropped a Cullen Loeffler snap on what should have been a 48-yard field-goal attempt for Ryan Longwell in the second quarter, and Lorenzo Booker fumbled on a kickoff return and the Raiders recovered late in the half.

Oakland turned those two mistakes into 14 points.

There also was a 46-yard kickoff return in the first quarter by Oakland's Taiwan Jones, a 34-yard punt return by Denarius Moore in the third and Bryan McCann's 36-yard kick return in the fourth.

It was the above three plays that caused Priefer to begin to juggle things this week.

"It's setting the edge and contain on punt and kickoff coverage," said Priefer, who saw the punt coverage unit give up an 80-yard touchdown return to Green Bay's Reggie Cobb two weeks ago at Lambeau Field. "That's something I've prided myself on as a coach forever and really until this year I haven't had many problems with it. We just had probably three or four breakdowns in the last two games which shouldn't happen more than once a year to be honest with you."

Part of the issue, according to Priefer, is that some of the special teams players have seen their role substantially increased on the defensive side of the ball.

Tyrell Johnson, for instance, is now starting at free safety with Husain Abdullah sidelined, and Kenny Onatolu started at weak-side linebacker last Sunday in place of Erin Henderson. Henderson is expected back this Sunday at Atlanta.

This means Priefer needs to find other players to take over the spots of guys who are seeing more time on defense.

Priefer explained that on one of Oakland's big returns he had Eric Frampton replace Johnson as the second guy from the outside on the left portion of the field. Frampton doesn't ordinarily play that position - he is, however, usually one of the Vikings' best on special teams - and made the mistake of poking "his nose inside."

That was enough to enable the Raiders to take advantage.

"I should not have taken (Johnson) off kickoff coverage," Priefer said. "He's a very, very good player on kickoff coverage and I should have kept him there. I was trying to give him a blow because you go right to defense obviously from kickoff and it didn't work out as well as I had hoped."

Priefer joined the Vikings last offseason after spending five seasons coaching special teams in Kansas City and then Denver. He attempted to take much of the blame for what has gone wrong in recent weeks.

"It's not always their fault," he said of the players. "I've got to make sure that I put the right guys in the right spots and then coach them up the right way to put them in a position to be successful. That's part of being a special teams coach. That's what the great challenge is.

"That's why a lot of guys don't like coaching special teams because it's not just, 'OK, one guy gets hurt, you put the next guy in.' One guy gets hurt, you've got to move five or six different pieces of the puzzle. That's why I love it though, too. That's my challenge."

Gerhart's opportunity

Toby Gerhart has taken the first-team snaps at running back in practice this week with Adrian Peterson sidelined by a high ankle sprain.

It's expected Gerhart will get his third-career start - Peterson is listed as doubtful on the injury report - and play ahead of Lorenzo Booker.

"For me I'm excited for the opportunity, if it works out, and ready to try to make a statement and help the team win a game here," said Gerhart, who has only 24 rushing attempts for 118 yards this season.

This won't be an easy game for the Vikings running game. The Falcons defense is giving up 85.4 yards per game on the ground, putting Atlanta second to San Francisco (75.5) in the NFL.

The Vikings are fifth in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 143.1 yards per game but that is based on Peterson being in there.

"There are certain defenses in this league that know how to fit the run and they do a fantastic job week in and week out," Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said of Atlanta.

Musgrave knows plenty about the Falcons organization, having been the team's quarterbacks coach from 2006 to 2010.

Musgrave acknowledged that if Peterson sits and Gerhart plays that there could be some changes in the Vikings' approach. "There are runs that fit more to Toby than Adrian and so we'll major in those," Musgrave said.

Honest answer

Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder threw three interceptions against the Raiders last Sunday, including two on third down.

That didn't sit well with Musgrave.

"I imagine he's having some sleepless nights like anybody who throws it to the other team late in the down and that happened a couple of times," Musgrave said. "He's admitted that he was trying to make something out of nothing and that comes from judgment and I think judgment comes from experience. So we'll look forward to him learning from those experiences and not repeating those late in the down bonehead mistakes."

Musgrave will see a former pupil of his this Sunday at the Georgia Dome when the Vikings face Matt Ryan.

Quick hits

• Cornerback Kelvin Hayden (toe) is listed as out for the Falcons for Sunday. Tackle Sam Baker (back), cornerback Brent Grimes (knee) and defensive tackle Vance Walker (groin) are questionable. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd