When trying to make an NFL team as a longshot, it really helps to not be a dumbbell.
Former CFL standout Brian Peters and undrafted rookie fullback Blake Renaud are two longshots who probably won’t make the Vikings’ final roster. But they did quietly help their causes with intelligent decisions on one particularly big play in Sunday night’s Hall of Fame game win over the Steelers.
Both of them alertly avoided what easily could have been illegal blocks in the back on Stefon Diggs’ 62-yard punt return. Peters’ adjustment near the point where Diggs fielded the punt was particularly impressive.
“It was great,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “Even the official came over to the head coach [Mike Zimmer] and said, ‘Hey, you guys did a great job on that one not blocking in the back.’ We call it a ‘save-it’ technique. They save themselves. They stay in front of their man, but they didn’t block him in the back. It was well played.”
Priefer said he’s been “harping” on the players since May on how to avoid illegal blocks in the back.
“We had a couple called last year that really cost us field position,” he said. “I’ve been pounding it into their heads since May. We showed those plays from a year ago. We’ve been emphasizing it more than I have at any other time in my career. And we’re going to keep emphasizing it because Michael Mauti blocked a guy in the back the other night. He’s never done that before, so obviously we’re not there yet.”
Peters described what happened on the play.
“Actually, I was held up at the line of scrimmage by the long snapper,” he said. “So I was late coming down. I was busting my tail to get down there. I got around to my leverage.
“I was on his back shoulder but I would have had time to get him. But Diggs ended up cutting inside of me. We were supposed to set up for him to go outside. That’s when I made the split-second decision to block with my hips and put my hands up. And he made him miss. It probably didn’t matter if I was there or not.”
Asked where intelligence ranks on the list of importance for an NFL longshot, Peters said, “Intelligence and scrappy work ethic kind of keeps you around.”
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Twenty-five minutes into the final practice of training camp, coach Mike Zimmer had seen enough. The focus and energy weren’t there from his players after the 9 a.m. start, so Zimmer told the entire team to take a lap around the far field-goal post and come back. “Everyone,” he barked.
Outside linebacker Chad Greenway later said that a coach hadn’t asked him to do something like that since high school, but he certainly understood.
The rest of the practice was not much better, so Zimmer ended it 15 minutes early and gave his players an earful before they all trickled inside.
Zimmer, meanwhile, headed to the podium to vent about the poor practice.
“That was a terrible practice,” he said. “Not up to my standards. And they’ve better get better quickly or there is going to be a lot of heck doing on.”
What didn’t Zimmer like?
Does he often ask players to run like that?
“When I need to.”
What does he think of this training camp overall?
“Today’s not a good day to ask.”
What exactly did he say to his players in the huddle?
“I probably can’t repeat it.”
Was this typical stuff for the last day of camp?
“That’s not what good teams do. Good teams focus on the task at hand. They don’t focus on what’s happened the last 13 days. They worry about today and worry about getting better.”
Will he lean on his veterans in a situation like this?
“I lean on my size 10s.”
Might a team meeting be in Zimmer’s plans?
“We had a team meeting right out there on the field. That’s kind of what they did all day today. They had a team meeting.”
After a tense two minutes and 50 seconds, Zimmer stomped off the podium and inside, having made it clear that “my team’s not going to do this.”
The Vikings have a walkthrough scheduled for 3 p.m. before players will board the team buses or point their own vehicles north for the Twin Cities.
We’ll see if Zimmer’s message was received and the players are sharper.