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  1. #1
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    Getting right player mix makes these teams special

    [size=18px]On the NFL: Getting right player mix makes these teams special[/size]

    Coach Rusty Tillman is regaining guru status as the Vikings special teams step up behind a long list of standouts that includes veterans, draft picks and even unknown free agents.

    Mark Craig
    Last update: November 14, 2005 at 10:10 PM


    Today, he's back on top, a guru once again. Such is the fickle perception of coaching in the NFL.

    "I'm no different coach this year than I've been the last 23 years," Tillman said emphatically Monday, a day after the Vikings upset the Giants 24-21 with two special teams touchdowns and a game-winning 48-yard field goal.

    Tillman isn't the same coach exactly. He admits to simplifying his coaching schemes during the offseason after consulting with new assistant Jim Panagos.

    Panagos, 34, convinced Tillman, 59, that players would be more efficient with fewer schemes to learn. After studying the success of the Buffalo Bills' rudimentary approach together, Tillman was sold. He now has only three kickoff return schemes, six fewer than last season.

    "[Bills Pro Bowl returner] Terrence McGee had three kickoff returns for touchdowns last season," Tillman said. "Everyone of them was on the same return [scheme]."

    While fewer schemes certainly promote a more efficient special teams unit, the key to this year's turnaround is even more simple than that.

    "Players," Tillman said. "I believe you have to have the players."

    It's not surprising Tillman's finest season with the Vikings coincides with so many new players and old players who have returned from injuries.

    Kicker Paul Edinger is impersonating Adam Vinatieri. Rookie free agent punter Chris Kluwe looks Pro Bowl bound. And Koren Robinson, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown Sunday, is the best combination of speed and fearlessness the Vikings have had at kick returner in years.

    Mewelde Moore, who returned only one punt last season, had a 71-yard touchdown return against the Giants and is averaging 15.4 yards on nine returns this season.

    Then there are the unsung heroes of the special teams. Veteran Jim Kleinsasser, who is back after missing all but one game last season because of a knee injury, is "unbelievable and gets his guy every time," Tillman said.

    Rookie fourth-round draft pick Ciatrick Fason also is one of the team's better blockers on kickoff returns. And then there are other youngsters who are even less recognizable. Heath Farwell, an undrafted rookie linebacker from San Diego, is the poster boy for that bunch.

    In fact, if there were a contest to find the NFL's anti-T.O., Farwell would be the Vikings' representative.

    He's listed at 6-foot, 235 pounds, but admits he's barely 225. The Vikings gave him the rookie minimum, $230,000, and a $10,000 signing bonus that he said, "was pretty good."

    He spent the first five weeks on the practice squad and was such a hard worker that veteran linebacker Keith Newman lobbied Tice to let the kid play. Tice gave in when injuries on the defensive line forced the Vikings to switch temporarily to a 3-4 defense.

    The promotion was supposed to be temporary.

    "But then he made three tackles [on special teams]," Tice said. "Then he made three more the next week."

    Farwell earned Vikings Special Teams Player of the Week for his effort against the Lions two weeks ago. Robinson won the award this week, but Farwell worked below the headlines with key blocks on both touchdown returns.

    "That's the type of guy I am," Farwell said. "Work hard. Just do my job."

    By doing his job, Farwell, like his peers, elevated Tillman to guru status on a day he was battling Giants special teams coach Mike Sweatman, a 21-year NFL veteran with two Super Bowl rings from the Giants' 1986 and 1990 seasons.

    "Sweatman has handed it to me on several occasions," Tillman said. "It was kind of nice to return the favor."

    "If at first you don't succeed, parachuting is not for you"

  2. #2
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    Re: Getting right player mix makes these teams special

    I still don't like Rusty. I will have to give credit where credit is due.

    It was actually Jim Panagos who convinced Tillman that players would be more efficient with fewer schemes to learn.

    "If at first you don't succeed, parachuting is not for you"

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