Notebook: Vikings look to cut out penalties on special teams

Last week, punt returner Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels had returns of 42 and 11 yards canceled out due to penalties.

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Among the tasks for the Minnesota Vikings on Monday, a day after their dramatic, overtime win at Tampa Bay, was a special teams meeting. Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer wanted to address some of the breakdowns on special teams in recent games.

Only Zimmer didn’t make his way to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer’s office to speak with kicker Blair Walsh, punter Jeff Locke and long snapper Cullen Loeffler. This special teams meeting involved the entire team. Zimmer had a message to get across and wanted everyone on the team to understand.

"I think they understand the message pretty clear right now," Zimmer said Monday after meeting with the team.

Priefer shed a bit more light on Zimmer’s message Thursday.

"When you’re an error-repeater, you’re going to run out of chances at some point," Priefer said. "So we’ve got to make sure we either get it corrected or we’ve got to find somebody else to do those job."

Chief among the issues to resolve was the abundance of penalties on special teams. Minnesota has had at least one special teams penalty in all but one game this season. Yardage is being affected as penalties have negated big returns.

"It’s the mistakes, it’s the penalties, to be quite honest," Priefer said Thursday about Monday’s meeting. "Not making good decisions at the point of attack or not making good decisions before the play and how they’re going to block someone or the middle of the play or the end of the play and just not making good decisions as they’ve been taught to do. That’s the frustrating thing for me is the penalties."

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Due to penalties, the Vikings have had kickoff returns of 32 and 56 yards called back this season. Penalties have negated punt returns of 27, 11, 16, 11 and 42 yards. In Sunday’s win, punt returner Marcus Sherels had punt returns of 42 and 11 yards canceled out.

Rookies have been hit hard with the penalties. Of the team’s 11 special teams penalties this year, rookie safety Antone Exum has been called for three and rookie cornerback Jabari Price has been called twice.

Solving the issues is two-fold for Priefer.

"It’s either coaching is obviously allowing things to happen or they’re just not good enough," Priefer said. "I think they’re good enough and I’m not allowing it happen. So there’s kind of a two-way street — get better or we find somebody else. Or Mike Priefer, you’ve got to do a better job of coaching it and teaching it, and that’s the approach I’ve taken.

"I don’t want to wholesale replace guys. We’ll replace them if we have to, but I have to coach them better. I’ve got to teach them better. I know they understand the importance of it. If they don’t after this, then they’re lost causes. But I think they understand how important it is and how important field position is."

Priefer said he’s used more players on special teams in practice this week in preparation for possible changes. For the bulk of the special teams players, being taken off special teams usually means being a game-day inactive.

"They want to play," Priefer said. "Like any competitive athlete, they want to be on the field."

Punter Jeff Locke also has lost yardage due to four touchbacks in the past two games. Locke is tied for 25th in the league in net punting average with 38.8 net yards per punt. Locke’s four touchbacks are two behind Shane Lechler and Mike Scifres for the most in the NFL.

"We have to focus on game day in pregame to figure out the winds, to figure out how best to punt in that situation," Priefer said. "He understands situational football. We preach it all the time. The head coach preaches it. I preach it; complementary football, situational football. Those are very uncharacteristic mistakes for Jeff and he’s going to get better going forward."

Griffen wins defensive player of the month: Everson Griffen’s progress in October helped him become the NFC’s defensive player of the month.

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Griffen had an NFC-best six sacks in four October games and was the only player in the conference to have at least one sack in four games this month. Griffen also led all NFC defensive linemen with 20 tackles in October.

"I’m excited, man, but I can’t let this accolade become something that I think I’ve arrived," Griffen said. "I haven’t yet. There’s still more to come, and I’ve still got to be able to go out there and just keep on doing my job each and every day."

Griffen leads the NFC with eight sacks this season, which ties his career-high and is third in the NFL overall. He tied a career-high with three sacks at Buffalo in October.

Griffen is the first Minnesota player to win the award since Jared Allen in October 2011. Nine different Vikings have been named the NFC defensive player of the month a total of 13 times. John Randle was honored four times, joined by Doug Martin, Keith Millard, Chris Doleman, Jack Del Rio, Anthony Parker, Darren Sharper, Allen and Griffen.

Looks like RGIII: Washington coach Jay Gruden said Robert Griffin III is on track to start at quarterback this week against Minnesota. Griffin has been out since Week 2 with an ankle injury and will replace Colt McCoy as starter, even though McCoy helped Washington to an upset win on the road last week at Dallas.

"We have the intent of him starting," Gruden said of Griffin, according to the team’s Web site. "If everything goes well (Friday), yes, he should be the starter."

Gruden said Griffin took the majority of the first-team reps in Thursday’s practice.

Vikings coaches have said the team is preparing for both quarterbacks. Many of the Minnesota players know what it’s like to face Griffin.

"He’s a special quarterback," Griffen said. "He can run, so you’ve got to treat him like an extra running back. We’ve just got to hit him. You’ve got to hit every quarterback that you go up against, and you’ve got to keep him in the pocket. He likes to hold onto the ball a little bit more than McCoy, so at the same time we’ve just got to go back there and do our job and be in the right place at the right time and we can win this game."

Robison, Price return to practice: For the Vikings, defensive end Brian Robison (glute) and Price (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday.

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Zimmer said Robison should be fine for Sunday’s game. He suffered a bruise in last week’s games.

Quarterback Chandler Harnish suffered a Lisfranc foot injury, according to Zimmer, when he had his foot stepped on and could be out an extended period. Zimmer said the team would likely take a look at quarterbacks Friday with the possibility of adding another to the roster.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph didn’t practice with the team but did work on the side with athletic trainers. Zimmer said Rudolph could possibly return following the team’s Week 10 bye.

Cornerback Josh Robinson (ankle), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (ankle/knee) and tight end Chase Ford (foot) were limited Thursday. Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) and Exum (ankle/shoulder) returned to full practice.

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