Vikings planning ‘full-on competition’ at kicker and punter
Just because kicker Greg Joseph and punter Jordan Berry are incumbents doesn’t mean their jobs are set in stone.
EAGAN, Minnesota — If there was any doubt about how the Minnesota Vikings were going to handle their kickers and punters moving forward, new special-teams coordinator Matt Daniels cleared things up Tuesday at TCO Performance Center in Egan.
Though incumbent kicker Greg Joseph and incumbent punter Jordan Berry are still on the roster, they won’t be guaranteed a job for next season. Not with two rookies, kicker Gabe Brkic and punter Ryan Wright, in the mix.
“There will be a full-on kicker competition and punter competition,” Daniels said. “That’s why we brought in Gabe Brkic and Ryan Wright.”
For the Vikings, the goal is to create competition within each position battle, then see how each player responds to it.
Looking specifically at Joseph, he got off to a slow start last season, then finished strong. While most everyone remembers him missing a 37-yard field goal as time expired in Week 2, a 34-33 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, he ultimately went 33 for 38 on field goals and 36 for 40 on extra points for the season.
Those are respectable numbers for a kicker, and thus, Brkic likely will have his work cut out for him as he attempts to unseat Joseph for the job.
As for Berry, he left something to be desired last season with his middle-of-the-pack numbers. He averaged 46.5 yards per punt, with a net average of 40.8. To put that in perspective, Dallas Cowboys punter Bryan Anger, whom Daniels worked with last season, led the NFL with a net average of 44.6 yards per punt.
That might leave the door open for Wright to take over the job if Berry struggles in training camp.
How will the Vikings evaluate each position battle?
As much as the coaching staff plans to keep tabs on everything from what each player is doing in the weight room, to how they conduct themselves in the meeting room, at the end of the day, it comes down to their performance on the field.
“We’ve been tracking all of the statistics,” Daniels said. “The numbers are going to speak for themselves.”
After missing last season with a torn meniscus, tight end Irv Smith Jr. is slowly working his way back to full strength. He has been running routes at full speed during OTAs, and new offensive coordinator Wes Phillips has been impressed with what he has seen.
“Just last week I remember he ran a seam route where he had to bend inside versus Cover 2,” Phillips said. “He really stuck his foot in the ground and he ripped in there, and I said, ‘Wow, that’s the Irv that I saw on tape from a couple of years ago right there.’ He’s progressing really well.”
Phillips credits tight ends coach Brian Angelichio for getting the position group on the same page.
“He’s coaching them hard,” Phillips said. “We’re excited about where they are.”
While the effectiveness of the 3-4 defensive scheme will be hinged on how dominant the edge rushers can be — aka Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith — new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell knows the importance of his interior linemen.
Whether it’s Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, or Armon Watts, the Vikings will need all of them to step up next season. Asked about the defense’s potential, Tomlinson had high praise.
“I think the sky is the limit with all the pieces we have,” he said. “All we have to do is continue to come together.”
The Vikings are expected to have joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers this preseason ahead of their Aug. 20 exhibition game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
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