It wasn’t a good sign when Lions returner T.J. Jones slipped past Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson, sprinting up the sideline for a 35-yard return to start a poor day for the Vikings’ special teams on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.
Linebacker Ben Gedeon had to run from his kickoff spot at “R1,” or the closest to kicker Kai Forbath on the right side, across the field and knock Jones out of bounds.
Gedeon, a rookie, is leading the Vikings special teams as they rely on a handful of new faces. His 255 special teams snaps lead the team and, with five games to go, could grow into the franchise’s most by a rookie since Rhett Ellison’s 354 in 2012. Gedeon, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan, played on all coverage and blocking teams for the Wolverines as well.
“We do similar things around here, which helps a lot,” Gedeon said.
But the NFC North-leading Vikings could stand to improve the play of their young special-teamers, including rookies such as Wilson and Gedeon.
Even more seasoned players stumbled last week in Detroit, with defensive end Stephen Weatherly and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur flagged on returns. Those mistakes were on top of two blocked kicks and a third one that was called back.
“It didn’t stop there,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “We didn’t cover a kickoff well. We had a penalty on a kickoff return, which we haven’t had a penalty on a kickoff return in maybe over a year. We had two great punts, but two of the other punts weren’t very good and one of them we didn’t cover great.”
Gedeon is looking forward to Sunday’s next opportunity in Atlanta.
“Kickoff is always fun,” Gedeon said. “Gets your adrenaline going, especially the first play of the game or first play of the half. But nowadays, it’s all touchbacks.”
Kendricks expected to play; Remmers out
Linebacker Eric Kendricks is expected to play Sunday in Atlanta, according to coach Mike Zimmer, but he’s still listed as questionable to play because of a hip injury. The hip problem limited Kendricks at practice Thursday and Friday after he was forced to sit out Wednesday’s session. Kendricks declined to answer questions about his health.
Lamur previously has filled in for both Kendricks and Anthony Barr. Either way, the Vikings’ second-ranked run defense meets a worthy foe with Falcons running back Devonta Freeman rejoining Tevin Coleman in Atlanta’s backfield Sunday.
“They’re great players,” Lamur said. “We just have to keep them one-dimensional.”
Right tackle Mike Remmers will miss a fourth straight game. He’s out of the concussion protocol that sidelined him for three games but is now dealing with a back injury suffered Wednesday. Rashod Hill will start again.
Quinn has ‘unspoken about’ praise
Falcons coach Dan Quinn, the former Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, had high praise for an “unspoken about” facet of the Vikings’ fifth-ranked defense.
“They’re able to solve their problems on the field, and that kind of goes unspoken about,” Quinn told Twin Cities reporters on a conference call this week.
“Those are the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, and their defense has that. I’ve seen them solve problems sometimes before they even come up based on a formation or alert.”
The Falcons will be without top cornerback Desmond Trufant, who has two of Atlanta’s three interceptions on the season. Trufant is in the concussion protocol. Falcons cornerback and converted receiver C.J. Goodwin is expected to start opposite Robert Alford for Atlanta.
“They’ve had other guys play in there and they’ve played well,” Zimmer said.