Bernard Berrian (Chris McGrath/Getty)
With Darius Reynaud traded, Bernard Berrian will start the season returning punts for the Vikings. Plus, cornerback questions remain, and what’s the No. 1 thing players learned from watching tape of the NFC Championship Game?
The trade of Darius Reynaud to the New York Giants took away the Vikings’ primary punt returner, but they will replace the specialist with a starter.
Vikings coach Brad Childress said Tuesday that Bernard Berrian will start Thursday night’s game returning punts against the New Orleans Saints.
“He’s undervalued as a guy that catches the football pretty well,” Childress said. “He did it early in his career in Chicago and then he’s got the ability to make a guy miss, has the speed to be able to take it all the way. You’re looking at those guys. You don’t want guys that give you 10 yards through a 10-yard hole. If it happens to break, he’s got the ability to hurt you with his speed.”
Berrian is one of the Vikings’ fastest straight-line players and has returned at least two punts in each of his six years in the league except for 2007, his last year with the Bears. However, Berrian has never been the primary punt returner and the most punts he’s returned in a season was eight in 2005. He returned seven for the Vikings in 2008 and averaged 16.3 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown.
But with four healthy receivers on the active roster, the Vikings are taking a risk with Berrian setting up under punts. He doesn’t seem concerned about the additional workload.
“I’ve been doing that ever since I was a little (kid), so it’s always been that way. I almost kind of prefer it that way,” he said.
The Vikings are also expected to have Percy Harvin returning kicks, a duty that earned him Pro Bowl status as a rookie last year.
WHAT THEY LEARNED
While there is plenty of chatter and analysis regarding the Vikings’ protection of Brett Favre during the NFC Championship Game in January, there is a prevailing sentiment among players in the locker room this week – eliminate the turnovers.
Brett Favre threw two interceptions and the Vikings fumbled the ball six times, losing three of them, in the NFC Championship Game. Reviewing tape of that game this week drove home the importance of ball security with the players.
“Obviously you learned that turnovers will kill you,” Jared Allen said. “But you go back and watch the film and I thought both sides played very well. After watching the game a few times, I thought we played well up front. I thought there were a couple things we still need to clean up. We don’t want to give (QB Drew Brees) a chance to set his feet and throw in rhythm.”
The Vikings gained 475 yards in the NFC Championship Game and held the Saints to 257 yards, but turnovers were the great equalizer. The Saints fumbled three times, but lost only one, and Brees didn’t throw an interception.
“Turnovers is obvious. That’s something that we have addressed or we have been addressing,” Shiancoe said when asked what he learned when watching film of the January matchup.
Not surprisingly, Shiancoe also had an entertaining nugget when asked for his initial reaction to the film.
“They were who we thought they were. And we let them off the hook!” Shiancoe said, doing his best Dennis Green impression.
The Vikings have only three healthy cornerbacks on the active roster, but Childress said he is still “toying” with the idea of Cedric Griffin being active Thursday. That seems like a long shot given Griffin just started practicing this week on his way back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 24.
“He’s getting real-time work against our best and that kind of gives you a feeling for where he’s at,” Childress said, adding that Griffin has been working against Harvin and Berrian in practice on the scout-team defense.
Childress said Griffin would be more of a “front zone” corner, meaning he wouldn’t be pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage yet.
Childress also said undrafted rookie Marcus Sherels is up to speed on the game plan and would be one of the practice-squad guys to make the trip to New Orleans. The Vikings could decide to promote him to the active roster before the game to help bolster the number of healthy cornerbacks.
INJURY REPORT LOOKS FAMILIAR
The Vikings didn’t have any changes to their injury report from Monday to Tuesday.
CB Chris Cook (knee) and DT Jimmy Kennedy (knee) didn’t participate, RB Toby Gerhart (knee), CB Cedric Griffin (knee), S Jamarca Sanford (ankle) and C John Sullivan (calf) were limited. QB Brett Favre (ankle) participated fully.
Cook hasn’t practiced all week and Griffin seems like a long shot to be much of a contributor given his recent return to the practice routine, leaving Sullivan as the only starter whose status seems genuinely up in the air.
“I think he’s going through some of the soreness you get, maybe not to the same extent as camp, but just when you come out here and practice you get pushed around,” Childress said. “Your muscles talk to you. I think he’s going through some of that. He’s working hard to get some of that stamina back.”
Like the Vikings, the Saints’ injury report looks a lot like it did Monday.
RB Chris Ivory (knee) and LB Stanley Arnoux (ankle) did not practice, and LB Jonathan Vilma (groin) and CB Tracy Porter (knee) – both starters – were limited. T Zach Stief, who was limited Monday, did not practice on Tuesday. S Pierson Prioleau (knee), TE Jimmy Graham (ankle) and WR Marques Colston (kidney) remained full participants on Tuesday.
DT Anthony Hargrove (knee) was added to the Saints’ injury report and did not practice.
The Vikings and Saints don’t have to declare the probabilities of an injured player being active (out, doubtful, questionable, probable) until Wednesday.
With the season opener comes uncertainty among the coaches because they can’t rely on recent film of their opponents. Childress said he is anticipating some unscouted looks from the Saints on Thursday. “That’s what coaches do in the offseason, whether it’s stealing a play from somebody or an exotic (play) or something like that,” Childress said. “There’s an attempt to deceive. You’re going to get some of those looks. It’s the ultimate system kind of game, where you have to rely on your system.”
Brett Favre needs three touchdown passes to become the first player in NFL history with 500. He also needs 671 yards passing to become the first QB to reach 70,000 yards passing.
Opening-day stats: Brad Childress is 3-1 in season openers and the Vikings are 28-20-1 on opening day. The Vikings faced the Saints twice in the opener, in 1976 and 1978, splitting those games.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.