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2018 camp preview: More questions than usual surround Vikings special teams

The Vikings begin reporting to the first training camp July 24 at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan. The first full-team practice is July 28. Check here for new details on tickets, parking and times.

Before then, the Star Tribune will take a look at each position group. Saturday: Specialists.

On the 90-man roster:4 specialists

Locks:Long snapper Kevin McDermott, punter Ryan Quigley

Good bet:Kicker Daniel Carlson

On the bubble:Kicker Kai Forbath

(+) Drafted kicker Daniel Carlson in the fifth round, trading up 13 spots with Denver to take the SEC’s all-time leading scorer. … Re-signed kicker Kai Forbath to a one-year, $790,000 deal. … Re-signed returner Marcus Sherels to a one-year, $1.4 million contract.

(-) None.

Forbath has made 50 of 57 field goal attempts, including 8 of 11 from beyond 50 yards, since he was brought in to replace Blair Walsh in the middle of the 2016 season. He also accounted for 11 points in the Vikings’ first playoff victory in nearly a decade. So he felt comfortable heading into this summer. But a paltry contract in free agency led to the Vikings’ eventual selection of Carlson.

The Vikings’ first draft pick, cornerback Mike Hughes, could also become an immediate factor on special teams. Hughes was a dynamic punt and kick returner at UCF and could either complement or replace Sherels there.

Top question
Will Daniel Carlson signal stability for the Vikings kicker position? It’s possible we won’t know for a few years. Blair Walsh’s All-Pro rookie season seems eons ago given the turnover since. The Vikings made Carlson the NFL’s first drafted kicker and the franchise’s most valuable pick at the position. Forbath has a mammoth task ahead of him to keep his job this preseason.

"I've competed with someone every single year,” Forbath said. “It's no different than last year with Marshall [Koehn] here. Daniel is a good, young kicker. I'm not here to coach him. I'm here to get myself ready for the season. We'll have a good competition."

What you should know
Ryan Quigley and the Vikings’ punt coverage team led the NFL with 33 fair catches forced and were among the best with 29 downed inside the 20-yard line. Both were career-best numbers for Quigley and reasons why the Vikings retained him for the second season of a two-year contract.

Notable number
18th — The Vikings are anticipating touchbacks to be more critical this season. Changes to kickoff and return rules could give returners more room, so the Vikings want to be better at preventing returns altogether. Forbath’s 50 percent touchback rate ranked 18th in the league. The Vikings’ coverage team wasn’t great. Opponents averaged a 25.5-yard line start after kickoffs, coverage that ranked 25th in the league, according to Football Outsiders.

Top competition
Kicker — Carlson made more of his field goal attempts during six practices open to reporters. The rookie also made more in all 13 spring practices, according to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.

Rudolph could flourish under DeFilippo's tight-end friendly attack

The Vikings begin reporting to the first training camp July 24 at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan. The first full-team practice is July 28. Check here for new details on tickets, parking and times.

Before then, the Star Tribune will take a look at each position group. Friday: Tight ends

On the 90-man roster: 6 tight ends

Locks: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan

On the bubble: Blake Bell, Tyler Conklin

Practice squad candidates: Josiah Price, Tyler Hoppes

(+) Drafted Tyler Conklin in the fifth round (157th overall) out of Central Michigan. … Re-signed former Michigan State Spartan Josiah Price, who spent last summer in Vikings camp. … Signed one UDFA in Nebraska’s Tyler Hoppes.

(-) None.

Rudolph progressed sooner than expected from offseason ankle surgery, taking part on the back end of OTAs and minicamp in June. That’s a good sign after Rudolph was admittedly limited at the end of the season while playing through the severe ankle sprain. The Vikings return every contributor from last season, adding fifth-round pick Tyler Conklin to the room. The move creates competition for the No. 3 spot. David Morgan, a strong blocker, is expected to take a step forward entering Year 3 and could be more involved after catching 10 of 12 targets for 95 yards and a touchdown.

“Boy, he’s a friendly target,” Kirk Cousins said of Rudolph while mic’d up during spring practice. “It’s like throwing into a mattress.”

Top question
How many tight ends will contribute in DeFilippo’s offense? His work in the past, specifically with Gary Barnidge’s Pro Bowl season for Cleveland in 2015, has been lauded. Carson Wentz often targeted his tight ends in Philadelphia with Zach Ertz leading the team in receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. That bodes well for Rudolph a year after he was one of the NFL’s best red-zone threats, catching eight touchdowns and dropping just one ball.

“What [DeFilippo] was able to do in 2015 with Gary Barnidge, and then obviously last year [Zach] Ertz had an unbelievable year in this system,” Rudolph said. “It’s not just us. Obviously, he’s had great success with tight ends. What he is able to do with all the playmakers and all of the chess pieces that we have on offense, it’s been a lot of fun to see.”

What you should know
Rudolph has strung together 52 straight games played. He’s stayed relatively healthy, albeit while gritting through a bad ankle last season, since missing half seasons in 2013 and 2014. His availability has been one of the lone constants in an unstable period for the Vikings offense.

Notable number
300 — The number of snaps taken by the Eagles’ No. 3 tight end, Trey Burton, last season with DeFilippo as quarterbacks coach. The Vikings’ third tight end, Bell, saw 145 snaps. The Eagles were rich with talent at the position, so it remains to be seen how DeFilippo can divide snaps among Vikings tight ends this season.

Top competition
No. 3 tight end — The Vikings selected a late-round tight end in each of the last four drafts. Morgan has established himself a capable No. 2 while two other draft picks (MyCole Pruitt, Bucky Hodges) are already on other rosters. Rookie Tyler Conklin should compete with Blake Bell, last year’s third option, for a spot on the Week 1 roster.

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