Vikings take tremendous pride in special teams, and it has paid off during 3-1 start
New coach Matt Daniels stresses camaraderie among players on units
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson has made eight Pro Bowls and is heading for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s been handed throughout his career all sorts of trophies and game balls.
But there is one seemingly simple item he got this season that he also cherishes. He received from special teams coordinator Matt Daniels a cap with a logo on the front reading “S.T,” which recognizes those who play on special teams.
“I’m happy I’m still on the special teams and to receive one of those hats, for sure,’’ Peterson said. “I wear it every Saturday to the special teams meeting.’’
With his career accolades, Peterson, in his 12th season, easily could beg off on special teams if he wanted. But he likes being on the field-goal and extra-point block team, which paid off when he blocked a field goal in Week 2 at Philadelphia.
Peterson, 32, likes the pride members of the special teams have under Daniels, an enthusiastic coach in his first Vikings season.
“That’s one of those phases of the team that you have a bunch of wild dogs on, that can change at any given time in a game,’’ Peterson said. “(Special teams) give your team a different energy and a different vibe that can help you thrive throughout a game.”
The pride the Vikings have with their special teams has been paying off. When asked about Minnesota’s 3-1 start, quarterback Kirk Cousins said he has been “very pleased with our special teams” and that “they’ve played at a very, very high level.”
Kicker Greg Joseph was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday for hitting five field goals, including the game-winning 47-yarder with 24 seconds left, in Minnesota’s 28-25 win over New Orleans on Sunday in London. On the season, Joseph has made 8 of 10 field-goal attempts, including a 56-yarder that tied the record for the longest in team history. His two misses were both from 56 yards.
Rookie punter Ryan Wright completed a pass for a first down against the Saints on a fake punt and has been impressive with his ball striking. He’s averaging 47.5 yards gross and 44.3 yards net per punt.
Punt returner Jalen Reagor got off to a slow start after being acquired before the season from Philadelphia but has averaged 10.8 yards on four punt returns the past two games. And the Vikings are second-best in the NFL in pinning teams deep on kickoff returns.
“Our guys are just doing really, really well right now, and I’m proud of them,’’ Joseph said. “They take pride in it and that’s a big thing with special teams that you don’t always see.”
Leading the unit is Daniels, 33, who was an NFL safety from 2012-15 but mostly played on special teams. His nickname is “Hat,” going back to when he was a freshman at Duke in 2008 and he broke a running back’s facemask with a hard hit.
“They said, ‘Dang, Matt lays the hat,’ so I became ‘Matt the Hat,’ because I hit people really hard. …. Everybody (now) calls, ‘Hat. Coach Hat,’ ’’ he said.
In order to build camaraderie, Daniels distributed the caps before the season and also placed a card with words of wisdom on the locker of each special teams player. The cards read, “You are not the most important person on the practice field. Your teammate is. He sacrifices his time, his energy, his body in order to train, hone you. For without him, you can’t train. He helps make you the best version of you. Respect your teammate. Vikings special teamer.”
“Our whole unit, nobody’s an individual,” rookie linebacker Brian Asamoah said while pointing to the card. “We’re out there collectively doing our job.”
Valuing the unit
On some teams, players might get down because they’re not starters and might think they have been relegated to special teams. Reserve safety Josh Metellus, in his third season as a special teams fixture, said that’s not the case on the Vikings.
“Not everybody can be a starter,’’ Metellus said. “You only can have 11 on each side, so we’re just embracing our role and just want to go out there and win.”
Metellus said Daniels is a “natural-born leader” and players want to listen to what he has to say. He said Vikings defensive stars Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks attend special teams meetings even though they don’t play on the unit.
“Let’s continue to build this thing out, let’s continue to ball with one another, let’s continue to create this atmosphere of learning from one another and trusting one another,’’ Daniels said of what he preaches.
Daniels also has given some of his custom caps to Minnesota coaches. That has gone over well.
“You see a lot of guys, people around the building, offensive coaches and defensive coaches wearing them,’’ said head coach Kevin O’Connell. “I think I try to wear mine and they tell me it looks funny on my head. I’ll try to wear it just so they know I got it and I support them, but I think it’s just a cool thing he does.’’
Meanwhile, Peterson has continued to cherish his cap. He was asked about the possibility of someone who doesn’t meet Daniels’ criteria getting one.
“It’s very impossible,’’ Peterson said. “I think Hat only gave them out to guys who participate on special teams, so I’m lucky to have one.”
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