New additions: Austin Cutting (Rookie)
Key losses: Marcus Sherels (returner)
There will be several new looks on the Minnesota Vikings’ special teams unit this season, starting at the top. Mike Priefer, who had run the group since 2011, decided to take the same position with his hometown Cleveland Browns this offseason. He was replaced by Marwan Maalouf who has held a variety of coaching and assistant positions in the NFL since 2004. He will be tasked with solidifying a kicking game that has floundered in recent years.
Kickers Daniel Carlson, Blair Walsh and Kai Forbath just weren’t consistent enough for the Vikings over the past several seasons, and they struggled in big moments, with Carlson lasting just two games last season as a rookie. The Vikings signed the Dallas Cowboys’ all-time leader in made field goals, Dan Bailey, last season after Carlson missed three of his first four attempts, all from less than 50 yards.
Bailey was underwhelming, missing eight total kicks. He has hit just 75% of his attempts over the last two seasons, a fry cry from his league leading mark of 93.8% in 2015. With few other options, the Vikings re-signed Bailey to a one-year deal in March in hopes that he can regain his early-career form and rectify the kicking woes that have plagued head coach Mike Zimmer’s tenure in Minnesota.
Matt Wile returns as one of the more solid punters in the NFL, but it’s unclear who will be snapping the ball to him. Kevin McDermott has held the position with the Vikings since 2015, but Minnesota spent a seventh round draft selection in April on long snapper Austin Cutting. He became just the fourth long snapper to be drafted since 2016. (Yes, that includes the Lions’ selection of Jimmy Landes that year.)
Cutting though, was selected out of Air Force, meaning that he must to serve a two-year military stint upon graduation. However, According to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, Cutting has been cleared to compete for a spot on the Vikings immediately, and defer his service, as per a recent Presidential decree.
With the departure of veteran Marcus Sherels, the kick and punt returning competition is wide open. Cornerback Mike Hughes, one of the Vikings’ young receivers or former Lions running back Ameer Abdullah could all be viable options.