Underdog Sherels solidifying his role with Minnesota Vikings
He's a 5-foot-10 cornerback in a league full of 6-foot-3 receivers. He was an undrafted free agent who made the team on a tryout in a league that caters to high draft picks. And every time the Vikings announce a round of cuts during the preseason, the list invariably does not include No. 35.
After the Vikings announced their first wave of cuts this week to whittle a 90-man roster down to 75, Sherels has now made it through 11 preseason cuts in his career. And there is no sign that is about to change.
''Whether it's playing corner or it's kickoff team, punt team, punt returner, kickoff returner, whatever the case may be, it's every year he's earned his job,'' Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. ''That's why I respect him so much because every year he's shown up and ready to roll and he's earned that spot.''
Sherels is on the verge of his sixth NFL season, an eternity for a cornerback who played for one of the worst defenses in college football at Minnesota. He not only wasn't drafted in 2010, he wasn't among the initial group of college free agents that teams sign immediately after the draft. He was invited to a tryout in the summer, did enough to persuade the team to bring him to training camp, and then just kept showing up when given the opportunity.
Sherels' biggest contributions have come on special teams, as a punt returner and a ''gunner'' - one of the players lined up on the outside of the punt coverage unit. More slippery than he is speedy, Sherels has returned two punts for touchdowns. His 10.5 yards per return average for his career is the best in franchise history and he has four returns of at least 50 yards, tied with David Palmer for tops on the Vikings list.
''He's confident in himself. He's a very humble, down-to-earth guy,'' Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. ''He listens to everything the coaches say. He does everything right. He's unbelievable.''
This year, the Vikings drafted receiver Stefon Diggs in the fifth round and he has been impressive so far with his speed on punt returns. He has averaged 20.9 yards on nine punt returns in the preseason.
But Sherels' versatility and dependability figure to keep him around again. Sherels has returned two kicks for 81 yards, covered punts with his usual aplomb and averaged 12 yards per punt return. He can also fill in at defensive back.
''It's been a fun road,'' Sherels said. ''Each and every training camp I come in and try to work as hard as I can. There's always competition. There's always going to be. That's good. That makes everyone better. That makes the team better.''
Sherels knows the first year he takes his spot for granted will be the last year he plays for the Vikings. But the soft-spoken underdog is starting to carry himself like an entrenched veteran.
''You have to think like that,'' he said. ''You come in and you're doubting yourself, you're not going to play well. You have to come in and have confidence and improve each and every day.''
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