The Minnesota Vikings special teams unit will step onto Soldier Field Sunday against the Chicago Bears with something to prove.
After yielding a demoralizing 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the opening play of the season against Carolina, Vikings special teamers are out to show that the play was a fluke, not a sign of things to come this season.
"We take special teams seriously around here," linebacker and special teams ace Jim Nelson said. "Obviously Carolina was a big downer because we expected a lot from this unit. I expect it will be different this week, because we definitely have the players."
Head coach Dennis Green said the Vikings' special teams play has to step up against the Bears.
"We're looking for much-improved special teams play," Green said.
The importance of quality special teams play was never more evident against Carolina. The Vikings defense came into the game hoping to rattle Panthers rookie quarterback Chris Weinke early and not let him get comfortable in the raucous Metrodome.
But Carolina kick returner Steve Smith made Weinke's debut much easier by spotting him a 7-0 lead before the former Heisman Trophy winner even stepped on the field. The Vikings never recovered from the shock, and lost 24-13.
"Obviously when it's the first play of the game, the first play of the year, it takes a lot of wind out of your sails," Nelson said. "But it takes a lot to get back into it too."
Fullback Harold Morrow, a mainstay on special teams with the Vikings for the last five years, said the extra practices as a result of Sept. 11's terrorist attacks did the unit some good.
"We had a great week of preparation," Morrow said. "We got some extra work in. I think we're kind of hungry, we want to go out and hit somebody other than ourselves."
The attacks threw the team, and the nation, into an emotional tailspin, and Nelson said the team is just now getting back into a regular routine.
"I think everybody's starting to get back into the routine again," Nelson said. "The whole football season, beginning with training camp has been a difficult time. Definitely something that we'll probably never experience again with (the death of Korey Stringer) and now with (the terrorist attacks). I think everybody's looking forward to getting back and playing again."
Morrow said he has no doubt the Vikings' special teams unit will reassert itself as one of the top units in the league.
"One thing you're not going to miss with the Minnesota Vikings special teams is intensity," Morrow said. "We thrive on intensity. We want to go out and be the best we can be on every play. We're not going to be perfect. Unfortunately we had that one mistake that was an eye-opener. We've put that behind us and right now we're getting ready for Chicago.
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