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Vikings expecting special boost from return of Sherels

MINNEAPOLIS -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was optimistic punt returner Marcus Sherels will be able to play Sunday at Jacksonville, which would be a boost to a special-teams unit that struggled in several phases in last week's loss to Dallas.

Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels (35) returns a punt for a touchdown against the Houston Texans in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels (35) returns a punt for a touchdown against the Houston Texans in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was optimistic punt returner Marcus Sherels will be able to play Sunday at Jacksonville, which would be a boost to a special-teams unit that struggled in several phases in last week's loss to Dallas.

Sherels has missed three of the past four games because of injury, including the previous two. Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson assumed punt-returning duties against the Cowboys with poor results.

Thielen fumbled inside the 10-yard line in the fourth quarter to set up Dallas for its go-ahead touchdown while Patterson muffed a punt later.

Kicker Kai Forbath is a perfect 6 for 6 on field goals and has made all of his extra points since replacing Blair Walsh. However, punter Jeff Locke derailed from a fine season with his worst game against Dallas. He averaged just 30 yards on four punts, including shanks of 16 and 25 yards.

"For the most part, we've been decent this year," coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday about his special teams. "We haven't been good in kickoff coverage. We've been pretty good in the punting game. Hopefully that was a one-time deal. Since Sherels hasn't been in there, the punt return game hasn't been as good, so we need to correct those things, stop the penalties."

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Special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer said poor drops and poor leg swings plagued Locke.

"It was kind of a perfect storm," Priefer said. "Things were going bad, and we thought he had it corrected at halftime ... shortened his approach and going back to the basics. And we ended up having three inside the 20-(yard line). He has done that for us this year, and that's what we needed him to punt."

Sherels averages 13.4 yards per return and has scored two touchdowns this year. His playmaking potential and reassuring ball handling would be welcomed back with open arms.

"He's very much involved in the game plan," Priefer said. "He has taken several of the reps in practice, so we hope to have him on Sunday."

Injury update

Center Joe Berger did not practice Thursday after being limited Tuesday and Wednesday. There was no immediate update on whether he had suffered a setback as he works his way through the NFL's concussion protocol.

His status against Jacksonville could be determined as late as Saturday, when the Vikings fly to Florida. Berger was injured Nov. 24 at Detroit. If he cannot start, Nick Easton would get the nod at center.

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, inactive for the past 10 weeks after knee surgery, was back on the practice field Thursday but returned to the locker room after warm-ups.

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Sherels (rib), defensive tackle Tom Johnson (toe), defensive end Everson Griffen (hip) and linebacker Edmond Robinson (hamstring) were limited.

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs (knee) and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (ankle) fully participated. All are expected to play against the Jaguars.

Briefly

Priefer was asked whether he was preparing for head-coaching duties again in case Zimmer should suffer another setback with his surgically repaired right eye.

"No. They haven't talked to me about that," he said. "I don't think so. I think he's back. He has been doing his normal head coaching duties and working with defense and getting on me about the penalties from last week, as he should. He's being a head coach. I think he's fine."

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