NFC North: Mike Priefer

MINNEAPOLIS -- Before Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings hadn't blocked a punt since New Year's Day 2006, in Mike Tice's final game as head coach. That was three head coaches and two special teams coordinators ago, and it certainly hadn't happened in Mike Priefer's time with the Vikings.

But headed into Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, Priefer felt the conditions were ripe for that to change.

He'd seen some things in the Panthers' punt protection schemes that made him believe the Vikings had a chance to get to punter Brad Nortman, and when time came for the Panthers' second punt of the day, it didn't even take a terribly aggressive punt block call for Priefer to be proven right.

The Vikings went with a rush-return call that sent three players -- wide receiver Adam Thielen, linebacker Jasper Brinkley and safety Andrew Sendejo -- up the middle of the Panthers' formation while the rest of the Vikings prepared for a Marcus Sherels return. The idea was to slip pressure past long snapper J.J. Jansen and force personal protector Thomas DeCoud to make a quick decision. When Thielen came clean through the line to Nortman, he got so close to the punter he had to block the ball with his hands to keep it from hitting him in the face.

"There was a return off of it; it wasn't like we knew we were going to block it," Thielen said. "The coaches did a great job of putting us in the right position, and really, I don't have to do much. I just kind of do my job and make a block."

Thielen corralled the loose ball, slipped two tacklers and raced into the end zone for a 30-yard score that would stand as the longest punt block return TD in Vikings' history for about a half-hour. Two possessions later, the Vikings kept their base defense on the field for a fourth-and-5 from midfield to guard against a fake punt, but Priefer put Panthers tight end Ed Dickson in a similar bind to DeCoud's. He could block defensive end Brian Robison or Brinkley as both swung around the right end of the Panthers' line, and when Dickson barely chipped Brinkley on his way to Robison, the linebacker swatted down Nortman's punt to set up a 43-yard Everson Griffen score.

It was a stunning turn of events in the first half of the Vikings' 31-13 win on Sunday, one that helped the team make history on its way to a big halftime lead. The Vikings became the first team since the Detroit Lions in 1975 to return two punts for touchdowns in one half, and just the fourth since the AFL-NFL merger to score two punt block TDs in the same game.

The design of both plays was similar, in some senses, to the double-A gap blitz the Vikings often use on defense, which forces blockers to make quick decisions and uses confusion to create opportunities for sacks. Priefer talked again on Sunday about how he has more freedom to be aggressive under coach Mike Zimmer than he's had under some head coaches, though the Vikings' charges on Sunday were confined to one area of the Panthers' protection scheme.

Two of them worked, and they created opportunities for a rare achievement.

"We have a lot of core players here that believe special teams is important," Priefer said. "We've got a head coach that supports us with meeting time, walk-through time and practice time, and he allows me to make those calls. In years past, I've coached with different head coaches that don't want to be quite as aggressive. We were aggressive on punt team [on Nov. 16 against Chicago] with the fake punt; we were aggressive on punt rushes. That really helps us do some things."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- When he became the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in January, Mike Zimmer got a message from one of his coaching mentors, Bill Parcells, with three points about the hardships of the job Zimmer was about to start. The second point on that list was this: "Four or five things happen in pro football every day that you wish wouldn't happen. If you can't handle those, you need to get another job."

If there's been an overriding theme of Zimmer's first half-season as the Vikings' head coach, that might be it. He saw Adrian Peterson get arrested before the second game of the season, lost Matt Cassel, Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Fusco in the third, was forced to sit Teddy Bridgewater in the fifth and had dealt with two other players in legal trouble by Week 6. He coached with kidney stones in Buffalo on Oct. 19, and saw the Vikings fall to 2-5 on a last-second touchdown. And yet, the team heads into its bye week at 4-5 after victories over a pair of last-place teams roused a flickering playoff hope.

The Vikings probably aren't ready to make a postseason push this year, but there are signs of progress, particularly with a defense that leads the league in sacks and is ranked ninth in pass defense after an offseason overhaul. On Monday, during his final news conference before the bye week, Zimmer said, "I do believe we're building what I envisioned this football team to look like."

[+] EnlargeMike Zimmer
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallMike Zimmer is in his first season as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings after six seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals.
After that news conference, Zimmer sat down in his office with ESPN for a longer interview about his first half-season as the Vikings' head coach and what he expects to happen next. We'll post parts of that interview throughout the rest of this week. Here's the first section of our interview:

In the time you've been the head coach, I'm sure a lot of things probably didn't go the way you drew it up, but has the job itself been about what you expected? Has any part of it surprised you?

Mike Zimmer: Some of the scenarios surprised me a little bit -- the coach (special teams coordinator Mike Priefer) being suspended, and Adrian, and the quarterback getting hurt. You understand the injury part of things, but some of the other things surprise me. Honestly, dealing with the media has been more than I thought it would be. The coaching part has not been overwhelming or anything like that. The schedules were no fun to do, but I think we kind of smoothed those things out. I thought training camp went smooth. I guess, in more ways than one, I've felt pretty comfortable."

When those things come up that do surprise you, what do you draw on to manage them?

Zimmer: A lot of things in the past, but sometimes I'll talk to [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] about some of the situations, because he's been through them a lot. I talk to [general manager] Rick [Spielman], obviously. But I guess I just kind of do what I think I need to do. Sometimes it's pulling players in here and talking to them about performances. Sometimes it's getting after them. It's just coaching that point."

You've talked about creating a culture here, or setting expectations. What have you found is the most effective way to do that? Is it harder to do when you're managing a whole team and not just a defense?

Zimmer: Sometimes I get frustrated because I want us to do things better than what we're doing. I try to be consistent with everything I'm trying to do. I think some of it is, just the way I talk to the team, the things I preach to them every day or in the meetings. It hasn't been harder to do it with the team, as opposed to just the defense, but I know as coaches, we talked a lot about -- because I'll get frustrated sometimes, and they'll say, 'Hey, you're trying to create a new culture, you're trying to do all those things.' I said, 'I know, but I expect it to go faster.' And then I think back to Cincinnati -- it was different defensively, but it was kind of the same. We were trying to create a mindset and a toughness and a physicality, and playing smart, and playing a team concept. I guess, sometimes it just doesn't happen quite as fast as I want it to. I have to realize, it's not done in a week. It takes time. But that's the thing I like a little bit about where we're at. You've got guys like [Anthony] Barr and Teddy Bridgewater. Barr is a young guy that's a really good football player, and as a rookie, he doesn't say very much because he kind of understands his place. Teddy's a little bit the same way. But three years from now, when those guys are in their third year and they're really good football players and they're the leaders of this football team, if we keep bringing up the right kind of guys and teaching them exactly how we want it, that could be pretty exciting to see. Not that I want to wait three years, but I can see Teddy and Anthony Barr being the cornerstones of this franchise in three years.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
AP Photo/Jim MoneLinebacker Anthony Barr (55) has the potential to be a cornerstone of the Vikings franchise.
What is it about that process of creating expectations that takes longer than it seems like it should? Is it just the nature of having 53 guys trying to get on the same page?

Zimmer: Honestly, I don't feel like I've had a problem with these guys following me. It's just doing things the way I want them done all the time. I think that's what makes good teams. I was listening to B-Rob [Brian Robison] the other day -- he was talking to somebody about how the defensive line is expected to know what the defensive backs are doing. That's kind of the culture I'm trying to get through. I think if everybody knows what everybody's doing, you all play better. I guess that's what it's really all about: getting everybody on the team on the same page.

You talked about "Zimmer being Zimmer" (on Oct. 13) after you talked about increasing fines for players being late (after a loss to Detroit). Did you learn something from that experience about how much further your words travel as a head coach, and how many more people are listening?

Zimmer: (Laughs) I don't know. I just keep being me. I just keep trying to be me. I don't want to portray anything that's phony or anything else. The one thing I do notice is that, because I'm doing so many press conferences, it's like, a lot more people listen to what I say than really I listen to what I say, if that makes sense. I try to be respectful, and there's always things you're going to hold back, but I'm pretty straight-on. That's just how I'm wired, I guess.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Were in not for the diving tackle of New Orleans Saints defensive back Corey White -- who reached out his right hand to trip Cordarrelle Patterson by the ankles as Antone Exum was blocking him -- Patterson might have had his first return touchdown of the season.

The Saints had bottled up Patterson on his first two returns of the day with high, deep kickoffs that didn't allow the All-Pro return man to advance much past the 20-yard line, but on the first play of the second half, special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer called a counter left return that created a seam for Patterson down the left side of the field before White grabbed him at the Minnesota Vikings' 35-yard line.

"He might have been one block away," Priefer said. "I think the kicker may have had the chance to make the play around midfield, but their safety made a nice play. Antone Exum had a nice block on him, and he made a nice diving tackle. If (Patterson) gets by him, he might score."

Other than that return, which went for 43 yards after Patterson took the ball out from eight yards deep in the end zone, it's been slow going for the second-year player. Patterson got just two return opportunities in Week 1 against the St. Louis Rams and one in Week 2 against the New England Patriots, as both teams kicked the ball through the end zone for much of the day. Last week, Saints punter Thomas Morstead put a little more loft in his kicks, keeping them in play but giving the Saints' coverage units more time to set up their kick coverage. Patterson got four chances to return kicks but was tackled on his other three at the Vikings' 20-, 22- and 18-yard lines.

Patterson was just as aggressive last season as he has been this year about bringing deep kickoffs out of the end zone, and most of the time, his gamble paid off. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Vikings started just 69.8 yards from the goal line after an average Patterson kick return last season, which was the best mark in the league, and 79.1 percent of his returns reached the 20-yard line. This season, he's only reached the 20 on four of his seven returns and has given the Vikings an average starting position of their own 21-yard line, on returns that have, on average, started 6.6 yards deep in the end zone.

"I think for any young player that's had the kind of success he's had in the return game, sure, (it's hard to stay patient)," Priefer said. "But that's my job to make sure he is patient, he's not making decisions that are going to hurt the team, he's going to take a knee when he needs to take a knee and he's going to take them out when he needs to take them out."

Patterson could get some chances this Sunday. Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bosher has gotten touchbacks off only 61.1 percent of his kicks, which is the 17th best in the league so far this season. As the weather gets colder and kickoffs get shorter, there could be more opportunities for Patterson, too. For now, he's biding his time, waiting for a chance to break one.

"I got my opportunities last week -- I think I had like four," Patterson said. "For every opportunity you get, you've just got to make the most of it."

Vikings Thursday practice report

August, 21, 2014
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Some observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice Thursday afternoon:
  • Peterson
    The Vikings were still without running back Adrian Peterson, who missed practice again Thursday after being gone for personal reasons Wednesday. Peterson wasn't going to play in Saturday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs but is expected to travel to the game with the team. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is still recovering from a bullet wound to his left calf, and linebacker Brandon Watts, who is out with a leg injury, weren't seen at practice. Cornerback Jabari Price and linebacker Gerald Hodges were on the field but were not participating.
  • Much of the Vikings' work again consisted of scout-team offensive snaps against the first-string defense, which meant another busy day for Christian Ponder. The third-string quarterback went 7-for-12, throwing one interception in 11-on-11 work. Matt Cassel hit 11 of his 15 throws and Teddy Bridgewater went 5-for-7. Cassel didn't divulge the Vikings' game plan for Saturday night but said he "expect(s) to play a lot" against the Chiefs.
  • Blair Walsh has hit 47 of 50 kicks in team periods since the Vikings started training camp, according to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who said he wasn't concerned about a pair of Walsh misses from beyond 50 yards in the Vikings' first two preseason games. "I think he may have missed one from 50, or maybe none, in practice," Priefer said. "If it was one of those deals where he was shanking the ball, I'd be concerned. But he's hitting the ball well. There's a couple things he needs to do with his follow-through, to straighten that out. We've already gone back and looked at a couple game tapes from his rookie year and last year. It's one of those things he's just got to continue to focus on his follow-through and the other little small attributes that make him such a great kicker, compared to other kickers in this league."
  • Priefer said the Vikings used 42 different players on special teams in last Saturday's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals as coaches try to evaluate whose special-teams contributions should help them win a roster spot. The Vikings will start to use more consistent special-teams units on Saturday against Kansas City as they prepare for the start of the regular season. They'll also try to get Cordarrelle Patterson a kickoff return or two, Priefer said.
  • The moment of the day in practice came when Chad Greenway dropped an interception and angrily kicked the ball into the trees just east of the Vikings' practice field. The ball got stuck in a tree, and several minutes later, Greenway walked into the woods with another football in his hand to perform the old throw-one-ball-into-the-tree-to-knock-the-other-one-down trick. "Didn't you guys do this as a kid?" Greenway said. Seconds later, he emerged with both footballs, proclaiming it'd only taken him one shot to dislodge the one he'd kicked into the tree.

Vikings Wednesday practice report

August, 20, 2014
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A few observations from the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Wednesday afternoon:
  • With Chad Greenway sitting out of team drills because of an injury to his right wrist, Michael Mauti got most of the work with the first team in Greenway's spot. Greenway had a brace on his wrist, but said he hoped to be back at practice on Thursday. The linebacker also will be in charge of the Vikings' huddle this season, coach Mike Zimmer confirmed on Wednesday; the job typically falls to a middle linebacker, but since Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole aren't likely to be on the field on passing downs, the Vikings gave the job of relaying defensive calls to Greenway because he figures to be on the field most of the time.
  • The Vikings continued looking at several safeties next to Harrison Smith, giving Robert Blanton, Chris Crocker and Kurt Coleman work with the first team on Wednesday. They'll continue their audition process on Saturday night in Kansas City, with Blanton -- who missed the Vikings' first two preseason games because of a hamstring injury -- receiving a fair share of the work so the Vikings can evaluate him.
  • On a day where the Vikings spent plenty of time with their scout teams on the field, Christian Ponder got much of the work at quarterback, facing the first-team defense for good chunks of the practice. Ponder threw one interception, when Harrison Smith picked off a pass underthrown into double coverage, but made some nice throws the rest of the day. "I think that Christian has improved a lot since we have had him," Zimmer said. "I still like a lot of things that he does, his athletic ability, his intelligence. I keep seeing that he doesn’t have a good arm -- that’s wrong, too. He’s got a good arm. He throws the ball beautifully, he just didn’t make as many plays during the OTAs as some of the other guys did."
  • As the Vikings get closer to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer's suspension at the beginning of the regular season, interim special-teams coach Joe Marciano has spent his time working with Priefer and assistant special-teams coach Ryan Ficken to mold his system into the Vikings' way of doing things. "His system and Mike's system are very similar," Zimmer said. "He’s obviously in all the meetings and everything in with Mike all the time. He’s trying to learn the same terminology that Mike is using that so when we do go to St. Louis (for the season opener) it’s all the same."
  • Wide receiver Kain Colter left with trainer Eric Sugarman in the middle of practice, and appeared to have an injury to his right hand.
MANKATO, Minn. -- Assuming his stay with the Minnesota Vikings ends by late September, interim special-teams coordinator Joe Marciano will work less during the 2014 football season than he has during any in 28 years. That's not something Marciano plans to make the start of a trend, however.

Marciano, who will "pinch hit" for Mike Priefer during his three-game suspension at the start of the regular season, said he's grateful for his opportunity with the Vikings after the Houston Texans cleaned out Gary Kubiak's staff last season, ending Marciano's time as the only special-teams coordinator in team history. The 60-year-old coach was "sort of retired" before the Vikings asked him to fill in for Priefer, according to coach Mike Zimmer, but Marciano is hoping he'll be able to parlay his stint with the Vikings into a full-time job somewhere in 2015.

"I think I'll be coaching somewhere next year, whether it's in the pros or in college," Marciano said. "I believe I'm still a good coach."

He stressed he's not with the Vikings to replace Priefer, who can return after two games if he completes sensitivity training, but Marciano's experience was what led the Vikings to him. They chose to bring in a veteran coordinator, instead of handing the job solely to assistant special-teams coach Ryan Ficken, to pair Zimmer with a veteran coach as he gets started with the Vikings. The assignment doesn't figure to run past Priefer's suspension, but it could open up more doors for Marciano in the future.

"When you do well, your reputation speaks for itself," Marciano said. "I'm thankful. I'm grateful to be back coaching."

Vikings Camp Report: Day 12

August, 10, 2014
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • Coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings came out of Friday's preseason opener relatively healthy, but the Vikings were missing several players at practice on Sunday afternoon. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson and linebacker Dom DeCicco weren't on the practice field, and safety Mistral Raymond (who suffered a concussion during Friday's game) was doing work on the side with safeties Robert Blanton and Jamarca Sanford, who missed Friday's game with hamstring and back injuries, respectively. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, of course, was not practicing after a stray bullet struck him in the calf in a nightclub incident on Saturday morning. On a more positive note, cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels returned from hamstring injuries, and tight end Chase Ford (broken foot) was once again out of a walking boot.
  • The Vikings began their practice outside, but had to move indoors for the first time during training camp thanks to a jagged bolt of lightning off to the west of their practice field. That turned Sunday's session into a glorified walk-through, and the Vikings were only able to do so much work inside the Minnesota State field house. Zimmer said he hadn't written practice schedules for this week until after Friday night's game, and the Vikings will have to resume the work of drilling their mistakes once they get back outdoors on Monday.
  • Zimmer wasn't thrilled with the way the Vikings' secondary played the run, particularly on Darren McFadden's 23-yard burst at the end of the first quarter. Safety Antone Exum had a shot at McFadden at the Raiders' 29, but came down with inside leverage and couldn't fight through McFadden's stiff arm to bring him down until the Raiders' 43. "I tell our guys all the time that long runs are typically because of the perimeter run force," Zimmer said. "We did not do a good job when the safety was coming downhill on that play, so we ended up giving him 14 more yards on that run than we should have."
  • Wide receiver Adam Thielen continued to win praise for his work on special teams, after returning three punts for 53 yards and making a tackle for a 4-yard loss on a punt at the end of the first half. Thielen was visibly upset he didn't score on his second return, which went for 26 yards, but special teams coach Mike Priefer said that was just a matter of Thielen making one more move. "He is probably disappointed that he didn’t score on the one, but that’s something that a young punt returner, that’s a mistake they are going to make," Priefer said. "He saw the seam and he just went for it full speed. He’s got to kind of dip and go to the outside or widen them and go back inside but it was a very, very well-blocked play." Priefer said Sherels is still entrenched as the Vikings' punt returner, but with Sherels fighting a hamstring injury, it's not bad for the Vikings to have another option they trust.
  • Rookie defensive tackle Shamar Stephen did well in Friday's game, Zimmer said. He wound up with five tackles in the game and showed some nice push up the middle on a couple run plays. With Joseph likely to miss some time, the seventh-round pick could see some more opportunities.
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings have hired longtime Houston Texans special teams coordinator Joe Marciano to fill in for Mike Priefer while the coach is serving his three-game suspension, head coach Mike Zimmer announced on Sunday.

 Marciano, who had been with the Texans since the team's inception in 2002 until last season, was fired shortly after the dismissal of coach Gary Kubiak last December. The 28-year coaching veteran was "kind of retired," Zimmer said, but he will instead take over the Vikings' special teams unit while Priefer serves his suspension for a homophobic remark he made during the 2012 season.

Priefer had coached against Marciano for years in the NFL, and his father Chuck -- himself a longtime special teams coach -- competed against him, as well. Assistant special teams coach Ryan Ficken could have handled the job, Priefer said, but Priefer supported the idea of getting a more experienced coach when he was asked for his opinion on the move.

"I’ve said that I think Ryan can handle it. There’s no doubt in my mind he can," Priefer said. "I can understand why we would bring in a veteran coach, and the fact that Joe was available was a benefit and a plus for us."

Marciano was at the Vikings' morning walk-through and will work through the rest of the preseason with both Ficken and Priefer, whose suspension starts the Monday before the Vikings' season opener against the St. Louis Rams. Priefer has said he's already started working on game plans for the Rams and the New England Patriots, and had planned to begin working on plans for the New Orleans Saints, the Vikings' third opponent. His suspension can be reduced to two games if he completes sensitivity training.

"He’s a great guy. Very, very knowledgeable,” Zimmer said of Marciano. “We felt like, in our thinking, that it would be good to get someone in here the next three weeks of camp to get a feel of exactly how we’re doing things, where we can continue to speak the same language and have some veteran experience for the first couple of ballgames, especially with me being a new head coach.”

Vikings wake-up call: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
MANKATO, Minn. -- Setting up the day at Minnesota Vikings camp:

Today's schedule: The Vikings have their normal routine of a 10:30-11:30 walk-through and a 3 p.m.-5:10 p.m. practice at Minnesota State University. Defensive coordinator George Edwards and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer are scheduled to talk to reporters after the morning walk-through.

More observations from Thursday's practice:
  • The Vikings have been doing extensive work with Xavier Rhodes, their talented second-year corner who still seems to be learning to trust his instincts in coverage. Rhodes is expected to be the Vikings' top cover corner this year, and while coach Mike Zimmer's defense typically doesn't ask corners to travel across the field with one receiver, Rhodes will undoubtedly see his share of difficult matchups this season. On Thursday, he drove on a route early in practice, but dropped an interception for the second consecutive day. Later, in a seven-on-seven red zone drill, he showed good technique against Jerome Simpson, playing with inside leverage that forced Matt Cassel to make a difficult throw to the back corner of the end zone, but Rhodes turned a split-second late for the ball and tried to swat it, rather than hitting Simpson's hands as he leaped to catch it. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray explained to Rhodes afterward that he'd played the right technique in coverage, but he just needed to force the ball out, rather than trying to recover by batting it away. It was a vivid snapshot in what's been a camp full of learning for Rhodes.
  • Zimmer continued to mix and match players in his first-team defense, giving Tom Johnson some work with the top unit at 3-technique tackle and rotating Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and rookie Antone Exum in the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith with Robert Blanton out because of a hamstring injury. Zimmer said he will release the Vikings' first formal depth chart sometime next week, and at certain positions it's probably dangerous to assume too much about a pecking order, when the Vikings are trying to get a look at a handful of different players in a variety of roles. ""Really, it's just about figuring out what guys can do," Zimmer said. "The more you can do, the more value you have to this football team."
  • The Vikings are experimenting with first-round draft pick Anthony Barr in a number of different ways. He's played linebacker in their dime package, has rushed from a defensive end position in the nickel, in addition to his normal work at linebacker in the base defense. He'll have to be able to hold up in coverage as a linebacker, but Zimmer's had no complaints there so far. "Coverage is great. He moves well. He’s got a good idea," Zimmer said. "Somebody was telling me that he takes copious notes in the meetings. He’s got pages and pages of them as we talk, so he’s very, very into trying to learn what we’re trying to do and teach. He’s got a lot of raw, athletic ability that helps in the coverage aspect of things. There’s times when he may pull off of somebody a little bit too soon that he’s got to do better at. But for the most part, I’ve been very pleased with that."
They said it: "I would say the sky's the limit, but there's no ceiling to his potential. There really isn't. If he's willing to put in the time, the potential is there. He has everything he needs. He's starting to mature as a player, as an individual, so his success is going to shoot straight through the roof. I'm excited. I told him this, and maybe it was a little premature, but I told him, 'At some point, I'm going to tell my kids I played with Cordarrelle Patterson.'" --Wide receiver Greg Jennings on Patterson.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe plans to file suit against the team this week, in part to obtain the full report from a six-month independent investigation of his allegations against special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. But Kluwe is employing another tool to pressure the Vikings to release the report.

He started a petition on, asking the Vikings to release the full 150-page report to the public. The team engaged another law firm to review the full report last week and released a 29-page summary of the investigation on Friday evening. In an interview on Saturday, however, Kluwe said the report contained inaccuracies about Priefer's conduct and called again for the Vikings to release the complete report. As of Monday afternoon, his petition had received about 900 digital signatures.

Kluwe's attorney, Clayton Halunen, said on Saturday that he would start the discovery process the same day he serves the Vikings with a lawsuit. Of the report, he said, "We're going to get that within 30 days (of a lawsuit being filed)."

In the explanation of the petition he wrote on, Kluwe said the Vikings had promised to release the findings from their six-month investigation, and he called a news conference last Tuesday to criticize the team after it informed him it would not release the complete report. Both the Vikings and investigators Chris Madel and Eric Magnuson released statements the same day saying the team had never made or broken any promises to Kluwe about what it planned to do with the report.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings were scheduled to pay Chris Kluwe $1.45 million in 2013. They paid his replacement, Jeff Locke, $451,048, saving themselves nearly $1 million with a decision that, according to the summary of a six-month investigation released Friday night, most of their decision-makers felt was necessary to upgrade their performance at the position.

Viewed solely through the prism of on-field results, it was the kind of simple, sensible football move teams make all the time. Which makes the Vikings' handling of Kluwe this week even more perplexing.

As the former punter and his attorney, Clayton Halunen, put it Friday, they offered the Vikings the following nonnegotiable terms to settle Kluwe's dispute with the team after the investigation into his allegations against special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer:
  • The team would make the entire 150-page report public, excepting the thousands of citations and footnotes -- some of which contained sensitive personal information -- from investigator Chris Madel's interviews with Vikings players and employees.
  • The Vikings would suspend Priefer without pay for four to eight games for his homophobic remarks and require him to attend sensitivity training.
  • Lastly, the Vikings would donate $1 million to charities supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender-friendly causes.

Halunen might have put additional stipulations on a settlement other than the ones he and Kluwe detailed in interviews Friday night. And it's safe to assume the relationship between the parties was frayed by the end of the process, which couldn't have steered negotiations in a productive direction. But if those terms are correct and complete, it means the Vikings walked away from a settlement -- and goaded Kluwe into threatening a lawsuit -- over a $900,000 difference in the donation amount, a one-game difference in Priefer's suspension and a decision to release a 29-page report on the investigation from a law firm they hired to review it rather than the original, independent report itself.

That seems like a minuscule difference for the Vikings to cover to make the episode go away relatively quietly. Instead, six days before players report to training camp for the first time under new coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings had a former player threatening a lawsuit and taking to Twitter to detail all the unseemly things he could divulge during that process. The Vikings should know Kluwe well enough by now to realize he's not one to back down, and they decided to provoke him when a little more transparency and contrition might have dispatched the whole thing. From a strictly legal perspective, they might be on solid footing; they've already reprimanded Priefer, and Halunen would have a hard time disproving the Vikings' claim that they cut Kluwe for performance reasons only. We've heard the full report, if released, will contain more material that paints Kluwe in an unflattering light, and Halunen seemed aware of that possibility Friday, after the initial summary included stories of Kluwe's bawdy locker room humor.

"I know there are things in there that are not flattering to my client," Halunen said. "He made jokes every once in a while. I know they’re going to be there."

But doesn't it worry the Vikings that, knowing all this, Kluwe seems intent on charging forward into the muck anyway?

Even the punter sounded perplexed, and slightly bemused, when discussing it Friday evening. "There was a reason I released the original Deadspin piece [on Jan. 2], so it would get handled at the best time of the year," Kluwe said. "The whole goal [was] to avoid this being handled in the football season. It's the same story going into the football season. It shouldn't be."

The Vikings could be standing on principles, or they could be trying to push Kluwe to the brink, hoping he'll accept a less favorable settlement over a protracted legal battle. But let's say players get asked to give depositions, or are even called to testify in court. Is that process -- and the possible PR hit -- worth the risk for the team?

If it's not, it's certainly tantalizing to ask why the Vikings passed on an opportunity to avoid it for roughly the sum of what they'll pay a backup defensive lineman this season. Or, slightly less than what they saved by keeping a rookie punter over a veteran who was about to become a very big thorn in their side.

Vikings owner supports Michael Sam

February, 10, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf released a statement on Monday afternoon supporting Missouri defensive end Michael Sam's decision to announce he is gay, calling Sam "courageous" and saying the Vikings would welcome any player they feel can help them win.

Here is Wilf's full statement:

"We commend Michael Sam for being very courageous with his openness on something of such a personal nature. His comments will have no impact on how the Vikings view Michael as a football player or as a person. If a player can help us win, we will warmly welcome him as part of the team and provide an accepting, respectful and supportive environment to help him succeed in the NFL."

The Vikings are still in the midst of an independent investigation into allegations by former punter Chris Kluwe that special teams coach Mike Priefer made homophobic remarks during the 2012 season. That investigation is expected to stretch into March. When he initially made the allegations in a Deadspin piece last month, Kluwe said Wilf approached him before the Vikings' 2012 season opener to thank him for speaking out in support of same-sex marriage, and added in an interview with that Wilf's wife Audrey also thanked Kluwe later in the 2012 season.

In that interview, though, Kluwe said he didn't see an opportunity to raise his concerns with Wilf during the season, since the owner lives and works in New Jersey and is only occasionally at the Vikings' facilities.

The Vikings decided last week to keep Priefer on their staff as their special teams coordinator, though they could certainly change their minds once the investigation is complete. Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and former Department of Justice trial attorney Chris Madel will make recommendations to the team once they are done with their work.

In a statement last month after Kluwe's piece was published, the team said, "As an organization, the Vikings consistently strive to create a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for all of our players, coaches and front office personnel. We do not tolerate discrimination at any level. The team has long respected our players’ and associates’ individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality."
MINNEAPOLIS -- There is, at last, purple smoke from the Minnesota Vikings' offices. The team has announced its 2014 coaching staff, adding some previously unreported names to a group of coaches that had largely been identified weeks ago. But now that the Vikings have a staff in place -- and have confirmed, as many had expected, that special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer is on it -- they will be confronted with the obvious question:

[+] EnlargeMike Priefer
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallThe Vikings are keeping Mike Priefer on staff at least until their internal investigation is complete.
Why keep Priefer on the staff before the conclusion of an internal investigation the team pledged it was taking seriously?

That question will linger for several days, and possibly longer, without an answer from the Vikings; neither Priefer nor new head coach Mike Zimmer is being made available to reporters to discuss the decision on Thursday, though both Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman are expected to make some brief remarks at the team's annual Arctic Blast Snowmobile Rally fundraiser on Saturday morning. But the inclusion of Priefer on the Vikings' 2014 staff might not mean the case is closed on the investigation.

It is easier for investigators Eric Magnuson and Chris Madel to get in contact with Priefer if he's still in town, employed by the team with a stake in the game, so to speak. In fact, my sense of things is that the Vikings knew that letting Priefer go now would make it more difficult for investigators to conclude their work in an accurate and timely manner. If, when the review is finished, investigators have proved that Priefer is responsible for reprehensible conduct, the Vikings can discipline or dismiss him then. Until that point, though, why put a well-respected special-teams coach on the open market when you're not sure what will happen?

Priefer was the driving force behind the Vikings drafting Pro Bowl kicker Blair Walsh, and played a large role in the decision to trade up and take Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round last year. Priefer seems likely to click with Zimmer, a fellow coach's son who touted the virtues of that pedigree at his opening news conference -- and put his own son, as well as the son of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, on his first Vikings staff. Dismissing Priefer now would have essentially rendered a guilty verdict in the middle of the investigation, and would have required the Vikings to part with an asset they seem to value. It would have been one thing if Zimmer and Priefer didn't see eye-to-eye, or if Zimmer had his own special-teams coordinator he wanted to hire. But otherwise, there's nothing forcing the Vikings to levy discipline in the middle of the investigation when they can wait and see if the results of the investigation compel them to do something.

The counterargument to all of this, of course, is that the Vikings are effectively giving Priefer a clean slate by announcing now that he will be on their 2014 staff. But let's be realistic: If the investigation makes it obvious the Vikings need to part with Priefer, they will do so, whether it's in January or February or June.

At the moment, they're simply saying they like the results Priefer has produced on the field, and that he's innocent until proven guilty, or at least liable. That might not be true in the court of public opinion, but it should also not be construed to mean the Vikings have washed their hands of the situation. Considering where they are now, the wisest course of action might be to let things play out.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings will announce all of Mike Zimmer's coaching staff once it's finished, but we're starting to get some sense of how the group will look.

We know it will not include former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave; Fox Sports reported on Tuesday that Musgrave has accepted a job as the Eagles' quarterbacks coach. That's not a big surprise, considering the Vikings had already replaced Musgrave with Norv Turner, but Tuesday's news rules out any chance of Musgrave returning to the Vikings in a smaller role.

The Vikings have defensive coordinator George Edwards reportedly in place, as well, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Master Tesfatsion, who's at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., reports he saw Turner's son Scott conducting the Vikings' meetings with quarterbacks -- which is a likely indicator the younger Turner, who was the Browns' wide receivers coach last season, will be on his father's offensive staff for a second season in a row. Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach Adam Zimmer, who worked for his father last season, is also expected to join the Vikings' staff.

How many of former coach Leslie Frazier's assistants could stay on with Zimmer? According to a NFL source, wide receivers coach George Stewart and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson both have decent chances. Stewart, who is at the Senior Bowl this week, had developed a bond with rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson dating to last year's scouting combine, and he has worked with Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens in the past. The Vikings blocked Davidson from interviewing for a job with the Atlanta Falcons, which would seem to indicate they would like to keep him on Zimmer's staff.

There are bound to be plenty of questions about special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who was accused by former punter Chris Kluwe of making homophobic remarks during the 2012 season. The Vikings are investigating the matter, and that investigation could help delay an announcement of the Vikings' coaching staff. Priefer is well-respected as a coach, but the Vikings might want to get the situation resolved before announcing a staff with or without Priefer on it.

The rest of the group is still waiting to see what decisions Zimmer makes, but the Musgrave move is at least an indication that the Vikings have given some coaches the chance to accept jobs elsewhere.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The day after Chris Kluwe alleged that special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer used homophobic slurs during the 2012 season, the Minnesota Vikings were quick to show they mean business.

They ordered an independent review of the allegations, retaining former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and former U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney Chris Madel to lead the process. That investigation had already begun, as of Friday afternoon, and it could move quickly; Kluwe said he would be happy to work with the investigators, and as he pointed out, the Vikings likely want to get to the bottom of the issue in time for a new coach to decide if Priefer could join his staff.

The attorneys' credentials are also impressive; both have specialized in internal investigations, and Madel (who represented the Vikings in a 2003 sexual assault case) led the 2011 investigation of the Fiesta Bowl for illegal political activities, which led to six guilty pleas. There's little doubt the Vikings are taking things seriously. It's the first time they've done a major investigation since 2006, when former VP of player personnel Fran Foley was fired for having an inaccurate resume. And that investigation was done by team legal counsel, not by independent attorneys. The start of an investigation was a show of serious intent.

But the lingering question after Friday's announcement was this: What, exactly, will the review be able to uncover?

An internal investigation is different from a legal proceeding in the sense that attorneys do not have subpoena power; Magnuson and Madel won't be able to force players to comply with the investigation, or testify under oath to what they might have seen or heard. The Vikings could strongly suggest players cooperate, but without the force of legal action, it will be tough for them to know if they're getting to the bottom of the issue.

"Even if you’re really trying, you can’t force them to talk to you, nor can you force them to say, 'I remember exactly what happened, this is what happened and I was there,'" ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack said. "You can’t put them under oath; this isn’t a court proceeding. Whether someone comes in and says to you, 'Gee, I don’t know anything about it,' or says, 'I don’t want to talk to you,' you’re pretty much in the same boat."

In an interview on Friday, Kluwe said he didn't have any recordings of Priefer's alleged comments, but had kept written records of the remarks in case he ever needed them and said again he had witnesses he could name if needed. But one of the players who likely would have been in the specialists' meeting that Kluwe referenced in his piece is kicker Blair Walsh, who supported Priefer and slammed Kluwe in a statement he released Thursday. Unless he, or any other player, were to be subpoenaed, would they have any incentive to cooperate fully? Kluwe even admitted on Friday he wasn't surprised to see players come to Priefer's defense, adding that "if what I'm saying is true -- that I was run out of the league for speaking out -- and if they take my side, they would risk falling under that same umbrella. The NFL is not an easy league to get into. I would be surprised if any came to my side, although it would be very gratifying."

It's not out of the question the review could precipitate legal action, either in the form of a discrimination suit from Kluwe or a defamation suit from Priefer. If that were to happen, and attorneys could call players to testify, everything might be put out into the open. As one team source put it on Friday, "I think Chris is hoping it becomes a legal action."

But unless that happens, the Vikings might have a tough time unearthing all the details to corroborate or disprove Kluwe's allegations.