From this viewpoint, the Vikings’ special teams are, well … how shall we put this?
But it wouldn’t be very Minnesotan to sling that dagger between the eyes of new special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf before he coaches his first regular-season game for the Purple.
So, putting it a tad more politely, Maalouf was asked if he’s ever seen this much “instability” in a kicking game this close to a season in his 12 years coaching NFL special teams.
“I don’t think it’s instability,” Maalouf said. “If you look at what’s going on around the league, there are a lot of teams that are very unaware of who their kicker is going to be. Or unsure.
“I think we use all this time just to evaluate these guys. We have to use every single minute we have to evaluate these guys. There are a lot of teams who are unsure of who their kicker is going to be and who their punter is going to be.”
The Vikings lead the league with one guy still competing for both positions heading into their preseason finale at Buffalo on Thursday. Kaare Vedvik, fresh off Saturday’s 0-for-2 start to his Vikings field-goal-kicking career, will split time with veteran Dan Bailey at kicker and possibly share punting duties with Matt Wile at Buffalo.
Leaguewide, there are 14 teams that haven’t missed a field goal this preseason. The Vikings have made one of three.
The 49ers, Steelers, Raiders, Jets, Giants, Dolphins, Ravens, Cardinals, Chargers, Texans, Packers, Lions, Broncos and Panthers are a combined 44 of 44 while using 19 kickers.
In Oakland, Daniel Carlson, the former Vikings draft pick who lasted only two games into his 2018 rookie season, is 7-for-7 with a game-winner against the Packers in the closing seconds. Feel free to wince at the irony of the guy whose Vikings career crashed and burned with three misses at Green Bay, including one in the closing seconds of overtime.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Ravens have made every one of their league-high 11 attempts. Four of those makes came from Vedvik. Before the Vikings acquired him for a fifth-round pick.
Curse? What curse?
No problem, says Maalouf.
“[Vedvik is] a confident guy,” Maalouf said. “That’s a thing that we like about him most. He brings a very professional attitude and a very good outlook. To him, those are just two missed kicks.”
Kicking and punting aren’t the only areas of concern, special teams-wise. Last week, coach Mike Zimmer put his young roster bubble position players on notice, telling them publicly that it was time to “get their rear ends in gear” on special teams.
The Vikings rank 31st in kickoff coverage (29.0 yards per return), 23rd in punt coverage (9.5), 19th in punt returns (7.2) and seventh in kick returns (24.6). Overall, Pro Football Focus ranked them 21st in special teams.
Yeah, it’s the preseason. But there’s some comparative value in those rankings, considering it’s preseason for everybody.
There’s pressure on the Vikings to keep enough special teams talent to supplement a roster stuffed with high-priced stars. And there’s pressure on Maalouf to make it work. Particularly at kicker and punter.
This is only Maalouf’s second season as a special teams coordinator. He was assistant special teams coordinator in Baltimore from 2008 to ’11, special teams coordinator in Indianapolis in 2012 and assistant in Miami from 2013 to ’18.
Last year, Dolphins had a rookie kicker, Jason Sanders, and a second-year punter, Matt Haack. Haack set a team record with 35 punts inside the 20, while Sanders made a team rookie-record 90 percent (18 of 20) of his field goals.
“Those guys weren’t a finished product, either,” Maalouf said. “[Long snapper] John Denney was a very good veteran. But the biggest thing they had to keep doing was the continuity of the reps together. I think that’s the same here. Just keep getting these guys a ton of reps and good things will happen.”
Tick-tock. The season starts in 12 days.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL.