Vikings Have Weapons On Kick Return

A strong kickoff coverage unit starts with having a strong kicker, and the Packers have that in rookie Mason Crosby, who boomed five of six kickoffs into the end zone last week. The Packers will need Crosby on top of his game again on Sunday in Minnesota, because the Vikings feature two return men who have each broken a big kickoff return already this season. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Vikings Game Center

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A strong kickoff coverage unit starts with having a strong kicker, and the Packers have that in rookie Mason Crosby, who boomed five of six kickoffs into the end zone last week.

The Packers will need Crosby on top of his game again on Sunday in Minnesota, because the Vikings feature two return men who have each broken a big kickoff return already this season.

Third-year receiver Troy Williamson and rookie fifth-round draft pick Aundrae Allison both proved to be breakaway threats in Week 2 at Detroit. Williamson busted a 56-yard return to set up a touchdown drive, while Allison took one back 60 yards to put the Vikings in position for a field goal.

It's unclear which one will be back on kickoff returns this week. Williamson missed last week's game with a hamstring injury and has been limited in practice this week, opening the door for more opportunities for Allison. But Williamson was back to full duty in practice on Friday, and is probable for the game.

Whoever the Vikings' top returner is, the Packers' best defense could be Crosby, who found his groove on kickoffs last week against San Diego.

"I felt after the New York game, some of my steps were a little off," Crosby said. "I wasn't hitting the ball as pure and as clean as I had been. I just worked on it a lot last week and it felt good during the game. It all starts with my steps and I just have to make sure those are smooth and not rush at the ball."

Crosby had three touchbacks last week, giving him five for the season, which ties him for second in the NFC. He had two other kicks against the Chargers that went into the end zone and were brought out. In all, eight of his 17 kickoffs this season have gone into the end zone.

That could be a significant weapon against the Vikings. Last week at Kansas City, Allison tried to bring three of former Packer Dave Rayner's kickoffs out of the end zone, and it cost him. On one that was 2 yards deep, he got it out to the 20, but on two others that were 5 yards deep, he reached only the 18 and 15-yard lines, respectively.

"It makes them make that choice in kind of that split-second, and that can make a difference," Crosby said of getting the ball into the end zone. "If they don't decide right away, if there's a delay, it can open up some lanes for us to run through."

Unfortunately, that worked against the Packers last week on their final kickoff. Crosby drilled it 8 yards deep in the end zone and San Diego's Darren Sproles hesitated for a second, but sensing the Packers had let up on the play, came tearing out and went 39 yards to the 31-yard line.

Lesson learned, says special teams coordinator Mike Stock.

"You don't stop until they take a knee and the whistle blows," Stock said. "We fell into that trap last week on that last kickoff. The guy thought twice about bringing it out, and he finally brought it out. And our guys were stuck because they didn't run down and they thought he wasn't going to run it out. We can't do that again."

{sportsad300}They almost certainly won't, especially with Allison already showing his penchant for coming out of the end zone.

"By the time he gets out of there, we should be on the 15 or the 10, because we've got some fast guys on our coverage unit," said Tracy White, one of the Packers' key special teams performers. "I would like to see it. He's going to be far away from the wedge anyway, and you can get around that."

That's just the first step against Williamson and Allison, though. White said on their long returns in Week 2, both players broke several tackles to make the big gains, so it could come down to fundamentals more than anything to keep them in check.

"Coach always tells us to make that triangle around the ball, have one man on each side and one right there in the middle, and you've got him," White said. "And when you tackle him, hold on."

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