Notebook: Vikings will continue to pay special attention to Devin Hester
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Devin Hester has yet to return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown this season, but that doesn't mean that Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is resting easy this week.
"He's still Devin Hester," Priefer said Wednesday. "It doesn't matter what his numbers are or what he's done so far this year. He's still a very scary returner. He's still, in my opinion, the best returner in the league, both punt and kickoffs. So we need to prepare like we're playing the best returner in the league. That's what we've done so far this week and we'll continue to do so."
The Vikings have good reason to be concerned about Hester.
In seven seasons and 102 games, Hester has 12 career punt returns for touchdowns, five career kickoff returns for scores and one missed field goal that he took all the way back. He is one return TD away from tying Hall of Famer Deion Sanders for most career return touchdowns.
Priefer and the Vikings don't want to see that happen against them on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Four of Hester's return touchdowns have come against the Vikings, including three on Chris Kluwe punts. The first was a 45-yard return on Dec. 3, 2006; the second was an 89-yard return on Oct. 14, 2007; and the third was a 64-yard punt return on Dec. 20, 2010. The first two were at Soldier Field and the third was at TCF Bank Stadium.
Hester added a 98-yard return of a Ryan Longwell kickoff for a touchdown on Oct. 16 of last season.
"I always go back and look at (the film)," Priefer said. "The success he's had in the past and the success we had against him last year in the last game of the year. But I always look at as much tape as I can. All of it. To see what we did well, to see what you need to improve on and hopefully we're doing the right things to prepare this week to get ready for him."
In the Vikings' regular-season finale in 2011, they held Hester to an average of only 2 yards on two punt returns and had him make two fair catches. He averaged only 11 yards on two kickoff returns.
There have been times Kluwe has been instructed to punt the ball out of bounds against Hester, but that's easier said than done. Especially in a stadium as windy as Soldier Field can be.
"It's more difficult outside because you might get a 20-yard punt," Priefer said. "Then you're head coach is looking at you cross-eyed that you only got a 20-yard net on the play. I think there's places and times in order to kick the ball out of bounds, whether it's at the end of the half or end of the game.
"But overall you want to have confidence in your coverage teams. I think we've covered punts and kickoffs well all but two plays all year. I would like to think that we're going to have a good, solid game plan."
Hester is 17th in the NFL this season in both punt and kickoff returns. He is averaging 8.0 yards on 25 punt returns and 25.5 yards on 18 kickoff returns.
"I don't think he's having a poor year," Priefer said. "I know his numbers aren't like they normally are, but he's only one big return away from making his numbers be where they normally are. So I just hope it's not against us."
Wide receiver Michael Jenkins appeared to be doing better after an MRI on his sore foot showed no structural damage, according to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier.
"That was a big help for him," Frazier said. "He was so relieved when he got that news because the pain was so excruciating for a while. But with the treatment he's getting now, he feels much better."
Jenkins was among the Vikings limited in practice Wednesday, joining defensive tackle Letroy Guion (foot) and cornerback Antoine Winfield (knee). Wide receiver Percy Harvin (ankle) and guard Charlie Johnson (toe) did not practice.
The fact Johnson did not take part was a bit of a surprise considering he was on the field for the start of practice and appeared set to go.
Four players were listed on the injury report but did not miss any time, including defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder), wide receiver Stephen Burton (ankle), punter Chris Kluwe (left knee) and running back Adrian Peterson (ankle).
Still starting I
"(Raymond is) pretty much 100 percent now, but Jamarca's been playing really well for us," Frazier said. "We'll probably split duty again on Sunday."
Raymond opened the season as the starter, having beaten out Sanford in training camp, but he missed six games because of a partial dislocation of his right ankle suffered in Week 3 against San Francisco.
"You always hope the guys that step in will play well and there won't be a big drop off," Frazier said talking about Sanford. "We felt like he was the backup for a reason, but he has really played better than we thought he would in a starting role. That is a credit to him. He didn't win the job coming out of training camp but he's really, really played well for us."
Sanford is sixth on the Vikings with 54 tackles and has forced four fumbles.
Still starting II
Fusco, a sixth-round pick in 2011, hasn't been as consistent as the Vikings would like but keeping him as the starter fits in with the team's attempt at a youth movement.
"As long as it's helping the both of them and helping our team we'll continue to do it," Frazier said. "So far, it's been good for both. Hopefully that will continue. The times that we've done it it's been a positive."
Asked about Fusco, Frazier said: "We just want him to continue to improv. You improve by getting reps, and he's still getting quality reps. We'd like to make sure we're bringing Geoff along as well. But Brandon will continue to get better the more he plays."
How's he doing?
Brian Urlacher is aware that Adrian Peterson is one of the NFL's elite running backs, but the Chicago Bears linebacker surprised Twin Cities reporters on Wednesday by admitting he had no idea how the Vikings running back was doing this season.
"Is he having a good year?" Urlacher said when asked about Peterson's performance coming off reconstructive knee surgery. "I've watched a little bit of film on him but I don't really get to watch a lot of football because we usually play on Sundays. Is he having a good year?"
This brought a few incredulous looks from those in the Vikings media room.
Informed that Peterson was leading the NFL with 1,128 yards rushing, Urlacher said: "Is he? It doesn't surprise me. He busted his ass to get back and it's obviously paying off for him."
The Vikings named Jonathan Wilf their vice president of strategic planning and business initiatives. Wilf, the son of owner Zygi Wilf, will serve on the Vikings management team and focus on developing short and long-range revenue-generating initiatives for the organization. He will explore the latest technology trends and their applications within the Vikings and at the new stadium set to open in 2016.