Everybody has heard the Chad Beebe redemption story by now.
You couldn’t script it much better. Shortly after he fumbled away a punt in last Sunday’s game against Carolina, he caught the winning touchdown to lead the Vikings to their last-minute, come-from-behind victory.
Beebe’s bobble, however, personifies a larger issue that has plagued the Vikings this season. They simply have not found a competent punt returner since Marcus Sherels.
If it’s not Beebe muffing a punt in a critical moment of the game, it’s rookie K.J. Osborn fumbling on a kickoff return. There was even at sequence in the game at Chicago a few weeks ago where Osborn inexplicably put the ball between his legs. It’s a miracle he didn’t fumble.
Asked specifically about Beebe’s mishap against the Panthers, special-teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf came to his defense.
“He took his eye off of it for a split second, and that’s the cause of it,” Maalouf said. “Some of the best returners in the league put it on the ground. I’m just glad he got a chance to redeem himself in some way. He’s a good returner, and he’ll help us. He’s going to make a big play at some point here in the near future.”
Still, Maalouf wouldn’t commit to Beebe as his punt returner for this Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That was no different than any other week, though. Any time he has been asked about his punt returner for the upcoming week, Maalouf responds by saying the team is working out Beebe, Osborn and Bisi Johnson and will simply react to how coach Mike Zimmer handles the inactives on game day.
No matter who it is this weekend — Beebe, Osborn or Johnson — the Vikings need more production in that area of the game.
“Any time we get a chance to return it, we want to return it,” Maalouf said. “That goes without saying. It just depends on the opportunities we have. And right now, we just haven’t had as many as we’d like.”
It looks as if rookie guard Ezra Cleveland is ready to get back into the mix on the offensive line. He missed the past couple of games with an ankle injury, and while he was limited in Thursday’s practice, it’s clear the Vikings are going to give him every opportunity to start this week’s game.
“We just got off the field and Ezra had a good day today,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “We’ll see when we get to game day. It sure looks like Ezra has a chance to be back in full force this week. Let’s see what happens. It’s sure nice to see him back moving around today.”
After losing his job to recently acquired veteran Andrew DePaola, long snapper Austin Cutting was cut earlier this week. His demise was his lack of consistency on field goal snaps.
“I think he struggled a bit with that,” Maalouf said. “I think he’s done a good job for us since he’s been here. We have to make sure that the timing and rhythm of our field goal operation is on point. And I don’t think it was, so we had to make a change.”
For the second straight day, tight end Irv Smith Jr. (back) and defensive end D.J. Wonnum (ankle, back) missed practice. Running back Dalvin Cook (ankle) and linebacker Eric Kendricks (calf) were limited.