The Vikings are getting closer to playing football. Training camp ramps up next week with the start of full practices, which can begin Wednesday. Until then, we’ll preview the key points at each position every day. Practices in full pads start Aug. 17.
Kickers: Dan Bailey
Punters: Britton Colquitt
Long snappers: Austin Cutting
In: Bailey (three-year, $10 million), Colquitt (three-year, $9 million)
Out: No moves
While other positions offer less certainty, the specialists shouldn’t require a ton of attention from Vikings coaches. For the first time in four years, the Vikings open training camp with one player at kicker, punter and long snapper. Veterans Dan Bailey and Britton Colquitt settled unstable kicking games, earning similar contract extensions this spring to do so for the Vikings through the 2022 season. They, along with long snapper Austin Cutting, formed the NFL’s fourth-best field goal group last season while Bailey converted 93.1%, just shy of a career high. Colquitt, signed just days before last year’s season opener after he was cut by the Browns, was the only NFL punter without a touchback, while ranking sixth in net yardage. The Vikings didn’t give or take many chances on kickoffs, forcing among the most touchbacks and fielding the second-fewest returns of any team last season. There are other unknowns in the return game, starting with once again trying to replace the retired Marcus Sherels at punt returner.
The primary battle on special teams is punt returner, where the Vikings expect fifth-round receiver K.J. Osborn to compete for the starting job. Cornerback Mike Hughes is the most experienced option, and receiver Chad Beebe is also in the mix, but Osborn led the ACC last year with 15.9 yards per punt return and could see many opportunities in camp. Preserving Hughes’ health, having missed 14 games (two playoff games) in two seasons, must be a consideration for the coaching staff.
Player to watch
Bailey. Sandwiched between Bailey’s 93% seasons in 2015 and 2019 are three years where his accuracy slipped. Now settled into a solid situation with Colquitt at holder, Bailey can sooth the Vikings’ kicking concerns for a while if he proves last year was more than a blip.
23 games. Bailey’s current streak of 23 straight games without missing consecutive field goal attempts is the longest stretch by a Vikings kicker since Blair Walsh’s 34-game run ended in December 2014. Bailey has a chance this season to surpass Walsh and become the franchise’s most consistent kicker in over a decade.