Mike Priefer has said in the past that preseason games give him a headache.
Considering the various units Priefer has to manage — and the expanded roster that gives him several layers of personnel to get involved — can you blame him?
This year, Priefer may need to pop an extra Ibuprofen after the games with three special teams competitions that are still very much undecided.
The kicking competitors, Marshall Koehn and Kai Forbath, were both perfect in their preseason debut, and are nearly even in roughly 325 practice kicks that the team has charted throughout the spring and summer.
“Over on the side they’ve probably kicked 90 percent each, and in the team work it’s only around 75 percent, so that needs to get better,” said Priefer. “They’re both kicking off well. They’re handling it like pros.”
That 75 percent clip was on display during Tuesday’s practice as Koehn and Forbath both went 3-for-4 during team field goal drills — Koehn missing from 40 yards out and Forbath missing from 43. Many of these head-to-head drills, in which the kickers take two attempts and then alternate, have resulted in ties throughout training camp.
Priefer applauded his punters’ work in the first preseason game, though he docked Taylor Symmank for a 31-yard punt in the first half. Otherwise, Symmank and veteran Ryan Quigley each delivered three satisfactory punts.
“We controlled the field position with our punt team overall,” said Priefer. “I thought we did a good job. We covered punts well. We protected well.”
Perhaps the biggest headache-inducer for Priefer is the holding aspect. Both punters have been working as holders for Koehn and Forbath, but Priefer has been working out backup quarterback Case Keenum and wide receiver Adam Thielen as holder possibilities, too. With two kickers and four holders, that’s eight permutations Priefer has to evaluate.
“Say the punter who wins the job is not the best holder, then we can have somebody else hold because I think we want to keep the best punter overall,” Priefer said. “The holding is part of it, but it’s not the most important thing.”
The Vikings have not lacked clarity at kickoff returner since the late 2000s before Percy Harvin came to town and was eventually succeeded by Cordarrelle Patterson. Without a clear-cut returner for 2017, the Vikings are working with four candidates: Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley, Jerick McKinnon and Marcus Sherels.
Adams seems to be the favorite since he returned all three kicks against Buffalo last Thursday. The rookie has struggled catching punts at practice but seems to be faring better with kickoffs.
Priefer insinuated there would be different players receiving looks Friday against Seattle.
“You’ll see more guys get attempts this weekend,” said Priefer, “and the best guy’s going to get out there.”
While the longtime punt returner Sherels may be the best equipped to return kicks, Priefer is hesitant to add much more to his workload since Sherels is already working with kickoff and punt units as a gunner.