Minnesota is looking at four players in the battle for its punt returner job.
By BRIAN HALLFS North
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — With 19 days remaining before the regular season begins, the Minnesota Vikings are still looking for someone to step forward and win the punt returner job.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has been testing at least four players at the position for the entirety of training camp and the preseason. For Priefer, it might come down to stability versus potential.
"The guy I'm most comfortable with back there would be Marcus Sherels because he's done it before and he is a very sure-handed guy," Priefer said. "Josh Robinson has some juice to him, as you have seen on defense as well. Bryan Walters has been there before. He's done it. And Jarius Wright is kind of in the developmental stage right now, to be honest with you, but he's getting better which excites me because he has a lot of talent as well."
Sherels was Minnesota's punt returner last season, securing a roster spot in the preseason with his ability and ball security. He finished with 33 returns for an 8.4-yard average. Robinson and Wright are the exciting rookies, drafted for the ability on defense and offense, respectively, as well as hope for return ability. Walters is in his second year and was signed as a free agent, where he had experience as a punt returner with the San Diego Chargers.
With Robinson and Wright's roster spots likely safe with their status as draft picks and Robinson's developing defensive ability, Priefer and the Vikings would likely hope one of the two can prove himself capable as the punt returner. But Priefer isn't ready to call a winner, or a leader for that matter, and is hoping Friday's preseason game will offer some clarification.
Priefer knows time is running out to make a decision. With ball-security as Priefer's main focus, Sherels would seem to have an edge. Sherels' spot as a cornerback on defense isn't guaranteed either, though, and Priefer knows special teams won't be the only consideration on who makes the team.
"Like any roster spot at this time of the year I have to pick and choose my battles," Priefer said. "It just depends how well they're playing on offense and defense and how much I can go to bat for them. That's why I like to watch practice and listen to the other coaches and their evaluations of their position players. It's going to be real interesting in the next couple of weeks what we end up doing, and I think this year compared to last year we have a lot more competition at a lot of different spots, which is a good problem to have."
Cook still suffering from concussion symptoms: Cornerback Chris Cook is still suffering from concussion symptoms resulting from Friday's game and he has been ruled out for this week's third preseason game by coach Leslie Frazier.
Cook, expected to start at one cornerback spot, left last Friday's game and has been a spectator at Minnesota's practices this week. He hasn't passed all the required concussion tests to return to the field.
"Chris Cook still hasn't been cleared so we're waiting to get word on him," Frazier said. "Hopefully he'll be able to do something tomorrow. I don't think he'll be able to do anything today."
Cook is expected to play a big role as the Vikings look to improve on their porous secondary from last season. But Cook hasn't been able to stay healthy since being the team's top draft pick in 2010 as a second-round pick. The highly regarded corner has played in just 12 games in his first two NFL seasons.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph practiced for the second straight day, and Frazier said his issues that caused him to leave Friday's game early weren't indicative of a concussion.
"In just talking with our medical staff and even talking with him, he doesn't think he had a concussion," Frazier said. "He thought it was more with his eardrum. We still had to go through concussion protocol, and that's what they took him through."
Defensive tackle Letroy Guion has returned to practice wearing a brace on his knee to support the sprained posterior cruciate ligament he suffered a week ago. Guion was in pads and had the knee brace on at the beginning of practice Tuesday but was out of pads and in shorts when reporters were let in after practice. Frazier didn't offer any update on him.
Tight end John Carlson is still unable to return since suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee July 31. Carlson has also been ruled out for Friday's game. Carlson is another player expected to offer good production since signing as a free agent in the offseason.
Carlson and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz were both signed in the offseason after each player missed all of last season, and the two have been sidelined much of the past two weeks. Schwartz is still working his way back from sports hernia surgery.
Being out last season and missing significant time this preseason has been a detriment to Carlson and Schwartz.
"We've got a couple guys between (Carlson) and Geoff Schwartz that have been out of action for probably too long for their own liking and for ours as well," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "That will be a good day when both of them get back on the field."
Defensive end Everson Griffen was back at practice after missing Monday with a stomach virus. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian (hamstring strain) was in pads and had his helmet on for the open portion of practice.