Marwan Maalouf has inherited a puzzle on special teams that might not have clear pieces until the end of April’s NFL draft.
The new Vikings special teams coordinator said Thursday “all things are on the table” regarding the kicker, punter and veteran return specialist on expiring contracts.
“That’s a top priority,” Maalouf said of evaluating kicker Dan Bailey, punter Matt Wile and returner Marcus Sherels. “We’ve already started to look at some of those guys and are keeping our options as wide as possible.”
The searches are familiar territory for Maalouf. The Miami Dolphins had four kickers and three punters during Maalouf’s six seasons as assistant special teams coach under Darren Rizzi from 2013 to 2018. Rizzi and Maalouf recently handled the turnover well. Kickers Jason Sanders and Cody Parkey combined to convert 39 of 43 field goal attempts in the past two seasons for Miami.
“We’ve always had good kickers where I’ve been,” Maalouf said. “The most important thing is overturn every rock and find somebody that fits what we’re trying to do, whether it’s a veteran or young guy.”
The Vikings special teams need to rebound. Minnesota ranked last in field-goal percentage (68.8), including seven misses after Bailey joined in Week 3.
Coverage groups were uneven, ranking fifth on punts but 20th on kickoffs. Sherels, who turns 32 in September, missed four games because of injuries. Vikings special teams committed the fewest penalties in the league, but did not block a kick or score.
Maalouf, entering his 15th NFL season coaching, said he will start with the basics. No team had more blocked punts, and only three had more blocked field goals, than the Dolphins during Maalouf’s time in Miami, which he credited to hammering technique into talented players.
“Getting past the line of scrimmage, getting our hands up,” Maalouf said. “That’s what’s really going to help us block kicks and block punts.”
First on the docket is finding a kicker, punter and punt returner.
‘Persistence’ is key
Rick Dennison, the Vikings’ new 60-year-old run game coordinator and offensive line coach, returned to one word three different times Thursday when asked what makes a great run game.
“Persistence, like I said, and a good runner,” Dennison said. “We feel like we have that right there.”
More carries for running back Dalvin Cook won’t be the only fix attempted. Coaches began the makeover of the offense with new run schemes.
At the center is Dennison, who is tasked with reworking a previously zone-heavy approach new assistant head coach Gary Kubiak said Thursday was too predictable. Dennison was mum when asked about the state of the offensive line, but he gave a notable answer when asked if linemen run-block as well as they did in the old NFL.
“Hopefully we get them to,” Dennison said.
Pariani ‘very fortunate’
Brian Pariani said he just feels “very fortunate” to be back in the NFL coaching ranks after his 29 consecutive falls coaching football came to an end with his 2017 firing in Denver.
Two years passed without an NFL job before Pariani, 53, reunited with Kubiak in Minnesota as tight ends coach. He will be alongside Kubiak for a fourth consecutive stop after also serving as his assistant in Houston, Baltimore and Denver.
Pariani stayed close to football by personnel consulting for the NFL Draft and conducting coaching clinics in the United States and Europe, including for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Academy.
“It really gives you a great perspective when you’re not coaching in the NFL of what a great business this is and what a great community it is to be around the NFL,” Pariani said.
Two assistants added
The Vikings added two quality-control coaches to an offensive staff now featuring 10 assistants, compared to seven on defense. The Vikings hired Christian Jones, a former Northwestern receiver, and A.C. Patterson, son of defensive line coach Andre Patterson, to entry-level quality-control jobs that can feature long hours and various errands.