Priefer encouraged by test run in snow before future TCF home games
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Even if kicker Blair Walsh and punter Jeff Locke weren't thinking about it, special teams coach Mike Priefer was contemplating Sunday's snowy outing at Baltimore as a test run for their upcoming two seasons at outdoor TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 and 2015.
And despite a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ravens return man Jacoby Jones in the closing minutes, Priefer liked what he saw out of his second-year kicker and rookie punter in the snow and cold temperatures.
"I knew pregame we had a chance to be real successful on punts and kickoffs because the way our young guys, those two young kids approached the game, they were like: 'This is going to be fun,'" Priefer said. "I mean, I have a kid from Arizona that went to UCLA and a kid from Florida that went to Georgia."
"They went out there and did a fantastic job for us, I was real proud of them. There were a lot of positives for us in that game, but it came down to one play. Again, that's the one that hurt us."
Priefer levied all the blame on himself for Jones' return, as he elected to 'mortar' kick in an attempt to avoid, or at least slow down, Jones. The Ravens adjusted to the call before the ball left Walsh's foot as Jones was in position to field the kick in adequate time to beat the coverage unit up the sideline for the go-ahead score. The style of kick refers to a higher, but shorter, kick that gives up better field position for the opposition, but should result in a shorter return with more time for the coverage unit to descend on the play.
"There are several. We've got a liner, a squib, a mortar, a bloop kick, a deep kick, right, left, middle. We've got a whole bunch of options," Priefer said. "I'll be honest with you: The one thing I was concerned about is that we had kicked one out of bounds on the play before, the kickoff before. We could've put it on the ground again, but I wasn't sure."
"I got a little nervous. I didn't want to give them the ball at the 40-yard line again."
After the botched kick, Priefer now added a wrinkle to the Vikings' kickoffs that allows Walsh to check out of a shorter kick should he see the opponents adjusting to it like the Ravens did on Sunday.
Walsh, the Georgia Bulldogs alumnus, responded with his only touchback of the game on the next kickoff after the ensuing touchdown from receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's 79-yard catch-and-run, which followed up Jones' touchdown return in a crazy finish that featured five touchdowns in the final 2:01.
Walsh also converted both of his field goal attempts from 39 and 40 yards, while Locke booted a career-high nine possessions away for the Vikings.
"[Locke] had one with a little bit high snap that he got out of it pretty quick and ended up being a touchback. He bobbled a snap and didn't panic and got a 37-yard net out of it," Priefer said. "He had the one 3.5[-second] hang time and it came back about 20 yards against us. But about eight of the nine punts to me were very positive."
However, it's still a work-in-progress for the young specialists group. Through 13 games, The Vikings' 44.8 yards-per-punt is 21st in the NFL.
After allowing 27.2-yards-per-return through Week 14, the Vikings' kickoff coverage unit is third-worst in the NFL. But one test run in the snow before playing two years at the outdoor TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota left Priefer encouraged.
"Absolutley," Priefer said. "I was thinking about that before, during and after the game."