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Updated: August 30th, 2013 12:50am
Zulgad: Marcus Sherels makes an impact in his return to Vikings

Zulgad: Marcus Sherels makes an impact in his return to Vikings

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Marcus Sherels admitted it was not an easy decision to skip the Minnesota Vikings' preseason game last Sunday in San Francisco, but coach Leslie Frazier made it clear that, in this case, the priority was not football.

Sherels' father, Ben, had died of cancer on the eve of the Vikings' preseason opener and the funeral was the day before the 49ers game.

"(Frazier was) the one that pretty much told me I needed to be with my family at that time," Sherels said. "He (said he) would have done the same thing. ... (But) it was tough because obviously you want to play. You're fighting for a roster spot, you want to be with your team. But at the same time, there's stuff outside of football that's more important. I had to be there."

Sherels was there to attend the funeral on Sunday and Thursday night he was back in uniform, making a strong case for why he should be kept on the 53-man roster.

Sherels returned the opening kickoff of the second half 109 yards for a touchdown in the Vikings' 24-23 exhibition victory over Tennessee at the Metrodome and then added a third-quarter interception, picking off a pass by Titans quarterback Rusty Smith.

The cornerback appeared far more comfortable on the field than he was answering questions in the cramped home locker room late Thursday inside the Metrodome. Sherels is as soft spoken as they come and appears to be most uncomfortable when talking about himself.

Frazier, though, had no problem sharing the fact that he was delighted for Sherels.

"Everybody loves the way Marcus competes," Frazier said. "We were all pulling for him. He played with a heavy heart, missing his father at the funeral last week. It's been tough for him.

"We've got some other guys that have lost parents on our team so they know what he's been going through. To see him make those plays, our whole sideline was just jubilant for them to see him come out and play the way he did, knowing what's on his mind and what this week has been like for him. I'm really happy for him."

Entering his third NFL season, Sherels is a guy whose roster spot never seems to be secure and that is why some wondered if missing the game at San Francisco could hurt him. But the Vikings coaches know exactly what they will get from Sherels. But that doesn't mean he won't have to hold his breath on Saturday when final cuts are made.

"I'm used to that by now," he said. "Competition makes us all better and I embrace it. ... You obviously get nervous, but right now I'm not really too nervous. You can't be. It's out of my hands and I've put enough on tape, hopefully, so it's their decision."

Said Frazier: "It seems every year he's one of those guys coming in, wondering if he's going to make it. He finds a way to make plays, his effort, his preparation. He's a multi-dimensional guy, covers a lot of areas on defense and is obviously a very good returner. He always comes back every year in great shape, well-prepared and he finds ways to make plays in the preseason, training camp and ends up making our ball club."

Sherels, who is from Rochester, Minn., and played college football at the University of Minnesota, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Vikings in 2010.

He spent much of his first season on the practice squad before being signed to the roster late in the year. He was active for the Vikings' regular-season finale in Detroit.

Sherels has played a far larger role the past two seasons, including being the Vikings' primary punt return man and handling some kickoff return duties. He also has seen some limited action on defense.

Last season against the Lions, Sherels took a punt 77 yards for a touchdown in a late September victory at Ford Field. Sherels' work on special teams has earned him praise from special teams coordinator, Mike Priefer.

"As far as I'm concerned he's never been on a bubble," said Priefer, who clearly will lobby for Sherels to make the final roster. "He's one of my favorite guys because he does everything the way you coach him to do it. He does it at a high level. He's smart, he's tough, he's quick, he's fast enough. He does a lot of the things we need on all four phases."

This doesn't mean that Sherels is usually one of the stars of the game. But on Thursday, with the Vikings' starters sitting, Sherels stood out.

He might not have been entirely comfortable with the attention that brought him, but he did acknowledge that after a tough week he felt his father would have been pleased.

"I know he's watching and he's happy," Sherels said. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. 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
In this story: Leslie Frazier, Marcus Sherels
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