Wednesday, February 10, 2016

mike priefer

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Cordarrelle Patterson’s future with the Minnesota Vikings has been a hot topic for three seasons now, sometimes for the good he has and done on and off the field, and often due to his lack of production on the field.

The thing that keeps cropping up within the fan base, however, is Patterson’s seemingly aloof attitude and perceived lack of dedication to being a professional football player. This narrative came to a head on Sunday when Patterson allowed Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby to catch him from behind and save a potential touchdown by popping the ball loose from Patterson’s grip.

The turnover allowed Green Bay an unnecessary chance at a comeback, while Patterson’s sideline demeanor drew scorn from Vikings fans from all around. Patterson appeared to be laughing and joking with teammates on the sideline shortly after the huge mistake and that seemingly jovial attitude came to a peak when Xavier Rhodes intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass in the endzone to keep the Packers at bay.

These images, Patterson smiling after a kicker bested him in a major way, brought all of the built up frustration with the former first rounder to a head.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Cullen Loeffler has played 171 snaps at long snapper for the Vikings, the most in franchise history and a testament to his staying power in Minnesota. Today, the organization says goodbye to their most-tenured player, releasing Loeffler after 12 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

“These types of decisions are the hardest part of our jobs,” said GM Rick Spielman in a statement released on the team’s official website. “Cullen was outstanding in the community and on the field for the Vikings. He handled his business with class and his impact in the locker room and on the franchise were second to none. We wish him the best in the future.”

Loeffler, who joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2004, signed a one-year, $1.05 million contract extension with an $80,000 signing bonus this offseason. The slight pay cut from his 2014 salary indicated the front office was prepared to release Loeffler if expectations weren’t met or bring in competition to raise his level of play.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Cordarrelle Patterson stands waiting in the back of the end zone, the heels of his feet hugging the white paint behind him. It’s Week 8 of the 2013 season, and the rookie is already the league’s most dangerous kick returner, averaging 36.5 yards-per-return to start his career.

Opposing teams have quickly learned to kick the ball away from Patterson, but the Packers’ Tim Masthay boots the ball deep, a mistake that will forever live in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Leaning back, Patterson fields the kick and idles over the goal line, reading his blocking and charting a path through the scrum ahead.

He quickly finds a crease and explodes, following Toby Gerhart up the alley with one hard cut. The burst that made Patterson so exciting his rookie year allows him to run upfield untouched, save for a diving attempt from Packers corner Micah Hyde. With one more plant step and juke, Patterson makes three Packers miss before hitting his fourth gear en route to the end zone.

Image courtesy of Bleacher Report
Image courtesy of Bleacher Report

The play above stands as the longest kick return in NFL history, a 109-yard example of exceptional athleticism and near-perfect blocking. It highlights everything that made Patterson such a threat in the return game his rookie year — speed, vision, a commitment to play design, and aggressiveness.

So what happened? Since making the Packers coverage team look silly, Patterson hasn’t sniffed the end zone on special teams. His yards-per-return have dipped dramatically — from 32.40 in 2013 to 25.62 in 2014 — and he appears more timid, even conservative, with the ball in his hands. Sure, Patterson is responsible for some of regression, but Mike Priefer’s unit must also improve if the Vikings are to return to form in 2015.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

When the Vikings re-signed 34 year old long snapper Cullen Loeffler to a one year deal this offseason, and then signed free agent long snapper Kevin McDermott to a two year contract, it was fairly easy to draw some conclusions implying that the Vikings are searching for Loeffler’s replacement.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer essentially confirmed that Loeffler will have to win a competition if he wants to spend a 12th consecutive season on the Vikings roster. Loeffler and McDermott will essentially face off in one of the least sexy, but somewhat important, training camp battles of 2015.

“I think he wore down a little bit as the season wore on last year and I think he came back strong,” Priefer said of Loeffler to the Star-Tribune. “You know, Cullen is a great guy and he’s very competitive and he’s very passionate about what he does and he’s got a great work ethic.”

Priefer also spoke highly of McDermott, however, and revealed a plan to split snaps equally between his two long snapper options well into the preseason action.

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Which Special Teams Player will Stand Out for the Vikings in 2015?

Darren: Adam Thielen 
Thielen might be the common answer here, but as long as he keeps his place on the roster in 2015, he should make the biggest impact on special teams. He seems to be in on more special teams tackles than any other Viking and also made an impact with a blocked punt and a touchdown against Carolina last season. Minnesota could even opt to help out its secondary by dumping Marcus Sherels, which would slide Thielen into the job of punt returner, where he has flashed some skills in preseason.


Andy:
[Punter to be Named Later]
Jeff Locke has to step it up in year three or he’s gone. Yes, he’ll probably benefit greatly from kicking indoors in 2016, but the Vikings can’t wait that long. He needs to start being an asset instead of a liability in the field position game this season, or he’ll be replaced. There will be improvement at the punter position in 2015. Whether that’s because Locke’s improved (having a familiar long snapper might help if McDermott beats out Loeffler) or because he’s been replaced is yet to be determined.

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