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Vikings preview: There’s work to be done on special teams



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The Vikings have the first padded practice of the summer on Monday. We’re taking a look at each position group as the season kicks off. Today: Special teams.

The Roster

Kicker: Greg Joseph

Punters: Jordan Berry, Ryan Wright

Long snapper: Andrew DePaola

Offseason Moves

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In: P Ryan Wright (free agent)

Out: K Gabe Brkic (released)

Outlook

New special teams coordinator Matt Daniels takes over after spending the past four seasons as a special teams assistant for the Cowboys and Rams. He inherits kick and return units that were uneven last season, when running back Kene Nwangwu broke out as one of the game’s top kickoff returners with two scores in 2021. The Vikings’ kickoff coverage was equally as solid, allowing the fewest return yards in the league. There’s work to be done on punts, including finding the punter in a camp competition between Berry and Wright. The Vikings also need to find an answer at punt returner and shore up punt coverage after ranking 28th last year. Joseph won a brief kicking competition against undrafted rookie Gabe Brkic, who was released at the conclusion of spring practices.

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Top Competition

Punt returner. The Vikings still haven’t found a difference-making replacement for longtime punt returner Marcus Sherels, who last played for the Vikings in 2019. Last year’s primary returner, receiver Dede Westbrook, was not re-signed. Receiver K.J. Osborn is currently their most experienced option with 11 returns in his two NFL seasons. He’s in the mix again, along with receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Albert Wilson, Jalen Nailor and Thomas Hennigan, who all fielded returns in spring practices. The Vikings ranked 22nd in punt return average last season with 7.9 yards per attempt.

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Player to Watch

Joseph. The Vikings had a league-high 14 one-score games last season, when Joseph made five kicks that tied or took the lead in the closing minutes of regulation — including game-winning kicks against the Lions and Packers. Joseph was solid for the Vikings during his first season with a 86.8% conversion rate on field goals and 90% on extra points. He’ll be in the spotlight again after signing a one-year restricted free agent tender, which makes him a free agent again in 2023.

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One Big Question

Will teams kick to Nwangwu? The kickoff return has faded before our eyes ever since the league started implementing rules a decade ago to phase the play out of the game. In 2011, the NFL moved the starting point up to the 35-yard line, making touchbacks easier. In 2016, the starting point after a touchback was increased to the 25-yard line. The league also banned blocking wedges and, in 2018, banned coverage teams from getting running starts. They were all efforts to encourage both sides to settle for touchbacks. Nwangwu still made the most of about 1.5 attempts per game last season, averaging 32.2 yards per try.

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