Returners need work, too

Much of the focus on special teams has been on their propensity to give up big punt returns for touchdowns, but they also need to improve on punt returns. Plus, Leslie Frazier hopes the fines that have been handed out lately don't hinder his defensive linemen's aggressiveness in rushing the passer.

While the special teams have come under scrutiny for their historic punt-coverage problems, they will also be searching for an answer on punt returns after the loss of Charles Gordon to a season-ending broken ankle.

Gordon's lower leg collapsed under the weight of a Green Bay Packer as he was being tackled in a gruesome injury that is requiring surgery. The Vikings are searching for Gordon's replacement as a nickel back, with those duties likely going to Benny Sapp, but they are also trying to find a punt returner to fill Gordon's role there.

Aundrae Allison is the likely candidate there and actually has a better return average than Gordon had. Allison is averaging 7.1 yards on eight returns while Gordon averaged 4.4 yards on 15 returns.

Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said he has faith in Allison as a punt returner, but he did say that one of Allison's two returns last week could have "looked the way Will Blackmon's looked" if Allison had taken it up the field instead of running toward the sideline. Green Bay's Blackmon scored a touchdown on a 65-yard punt return against the Vikings by moving straight up the field after catching the ball. Allison didn't do that on his return in question.

"He kind of guessed and thought he could outrun some people to the sideline, but the intent of the return was middle. I think Aundrae learned from that this morning. … What was the intent of the return? We were blocking two players out where he was trying to run," Ferraro said.

On the coverage side, Ferraro said "the guys were there" to make a tackle on Blackmon, but they let him get upfield right away.

"The first thing about covering a punt is that you don't want the ball to go right up the middle of the field. You've got to make him go sideline to sideline," Ferraro said.

It was the fourth punt returned for a touchdown against the Vikings this season. Blackmon had one in the season opener against Minnesota at Lambeau Field and New Orleans' Reggie Bush had two against the Vikings in an Oct. 6 game.

STOPPING THE RUSH

Vikings defensive end Jared Allen could be in line for another fine if the league deems his helmet-to-helmet hit on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to be worthy of financial sanctions as well as the penalty received during the game, but defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who played cornerback with the Chicago Bears before a knee injury ended his career, said it isn't as easy to stop momentum as it might look in slow-motion replays.

"Whether you're a football player or a gentleman like yourself running full speed in one direction, at the blink of an eye to be able to stop and change direction, it's a difficult thing to do. I don't know how you do it," Frazier said. "I played college and pro football and high school football and I never had the ability to run directly at the target and get within inches of it and veer off course. It's difficult even for Adrian Peterson to do it – he's a rare, rare individual."

Frazier said he hopes that the fines the NFL has been handing out this year don't cause hesitation in the way defensive players approach their pass rushes.

"It could alter the way defense is played in the National Football League, so I hope that doesn't happen," Frazier said.

NOTES

  • Last week, the Vikings faced a talented pair of veteran coverage cornerbacks in Green Bay's Al Harris and Charles Woodson. This week, they get to square off against Tampa Bay's 12-year veteran cornerback Ronde Barber. While the Packers' duo is known more for their aggressive man defense, Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Barber is "outstanding" blitzing out of the slot.

  • Bevell said he would like to be able to get Sidney Rice the ball down the field more often, but so far he has worked out more as a red zone receiver. Rice, who has been limited with a knee injury for much of the season, has five catches – three of those for touchdowns. Bevell said Wednesday was one of Rice's best days in practice as far as his legs looking strong again.

  • Frazier said he happy with the pressure he has been getting from his defensive line this year. He said it has been quite a contrast from last year when the linebackers were among the team leaders in the sacks.

    That will be a challenge this week. Tampa Bay has yielded only 10 sacks in nine games. "They really pride themselves on not giving up sacks and getting the ball out quick, and they've really been successful doing that," Frazier said.

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