The Vikings' struggles on special teams in 2020 will lead to a change at coordinator, according to coach Mike Zimmer, who said he'll let Marwan Maalouf's contract expire and seek a replacement.
Maalouf presided over uneven coverage and return teams during his two-year tenure. He replaced longtime coordinator Mike Priefer, who left Minnesota after the 2018 season to take the same job in Cleveland. No other coaches have been let go, according to Zimmer, indicating longtime special teams assistant Ryan Ficken will remain on staff.
This season, Vikings special teams were average or way below in nearly every category — punt returns (last), kick returns (16th), punt coverage (23rd), kick coverage (24th), field goal percentage (last) and extra-point percentage (29th).
"We obviously didn't play very well," Zimmer said Tuesday. "A lot of those guys that probably should've been playing on special teams were playing on defense, but we're going to shore up that area and it'll be a major emphasis as well."
Whoever replaces Maalouf will likely have a young roster and long to-do list.
"I have to take some time to evaluate who's available, who's not available, guys here in the building," Zimmer said. "We'll go from there and do it like we always do."
Special teams were unspectacular from the start, with three penalties and a blocked field goal, by the Titans, within the first three games of the season. It got worse as punter Britton Colquitt had two punts blocked by the Lions in a Week 9 win, making Detroit the first NFL team to block two punts in a game since the Vikings in 2014.
Long snapper Austin Cutting, a 2019 seventh-round pick, bottomed out in Week 10 at Chicago, where a low snap led to a botched extra point. He was replaced with veteran journeyman Andrew DePaola the following week.
The Vikings were just one of seven teams to allow a kickoff return for a touchdown as their former first-round pick, Bears returner Cordarrelle Patterson, went 104 yards with the opening second-half kickoff in Chicago. Television camera caught Zimmer yelling at Maalouf after that touchdown.
Kicker Dan Bailey's career-worst slump followed, starting in Week 13 against Jacksonville as the former Pro Bowler missed three of six kicks. He missed all four attempts the next week in Tampa and finished the season with a lingering back injury and a career-low 68.2% on field goals and 86% on extra points.
"A couple games there where I wasn't playing to my standard at all," Bailey said last week, "and then it felt like I had a good game, and then coming back to New Orleans and had that [back] issue come up. It's been frustrating."
The Vikings defense didn't force many punts in 2020, and the team is still seeking a long-term answer at punt returner since moving on from stalwart Marcus Sherels. Chad Beebe and rookie K.J. Osborn rotated those duties, with an NFL-low 69 yards on 16 attempts. Beebe, who had 20 of his 42 return yards in the season finale, fumbled one punt away at the end of the narrow Week 12 win vs. Carolina.
"Punt return was kind of back and forth," Beebe said Monday. "I really love the punt return job. There's no doubt about it. A huge adrenaline rush, I enjoy it very much. I felt like towards the end of the season, I finally got into more of a steady situation. I felt more comfortable back there."