EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings endured a roller-coaster season on special teams, as seemingly each of their 16 games featured some sort of twist and turn when that phase was on the field.
The inconsistent play led to Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer not renewing the contract of Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf after the season ended.
Ryan Ficken was recently promoted to Special Teams Coordinator. Ficken, who served as Minnesota's assistant special teams coordinator for the past eight seasons, is entering his 15th overall season with the Vikings.
But it was a collective effort on special teams, as almost every unit struggled at some point during 2020.
View the best special team photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.
Dan Bailey missed one extra point and two field goals in the first 11 games of the season, but he hit a slump in the final five games with 10 total missed kicks (five field goals and five extra points) in Minnesota's final five games.
While he struggled late, punter Britton Colquitt got off to a slow start before turning things around.
Austin Cutting began the season as Minnesota's long snapper but was replaced after nine games due to inconsistencies. Andrew DePaola took over for the final seven games and fared well, even as Bailey's struggles started.
While the special teams battery tried to figure things out, the Vikings also endured issues in their own return game. Neither the kickoff nor punt return unit provided a spark, as the Vikings offense was consistently hampered by poor field position.
And if that wasn't enough, the Vikings endured dreadful back-to-back games in Weeks 9 and 10, even if Minnesota won both games.
First, the Vikings gave up a pair of blocked punts against the Lions at home in Week 9. A week later, Minnesota allowed former Viking Cordarrelle Patterson to break loose on a 104-yard kickoff return for a score that was Chicago's only touchdown of the game.
Additionally, the Vikings were penalized 11 total times for 75 total yards on special teams alone in 2020.
So yes, it was a poor season by almost every metric for the Vikings on special teams in 2020. And it wasn't a surprise when they finished 31st overall in sports writer Rick Gosselin's well-respect annual review of special teams.
If you're looking for a bright spot, rookie Dan Chisena wasn't perfect after making the team as an undrafted free agent, but his speed and aggressiveness as a gunner was noticeable as the season went along.
Fellow rookie Josh Metellus led the Vikings with 261 total snaps and eight tackles on special teams. Chisena had 258 and six tackles.
Notable Number: 32
The Vikings struggles on special teams were highlighted by a pair of areas where Minnesota finished 32nd overall, which is dead last, in the NFL.
First, the Vikings couldn't find a spark between K.J. Osborn or Ameer Abdullah on punt returns. The Vikings averaged just 4.3 yards per punt return, which ranked 32nd in the league.
Minnesota also ranked 32nd in overall field goal percentage at 68.18, and was the only team below 70 percent around the league.
Minnesota's special teams unit helped the Vikings get their first win of the season in Week 4.
The Vikings started 0-3 and were on the road in Houston when Mike Boone jarred the ball loose from Texans punt returner DeAndre Carter.
Chisena fell on the ball for a timely takeaway that eventually led to a Bailey field goal. The sequence helped Minnesota race out to a 10-0 lead in an eventual win over Houston.
Boone earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his efforts.
Made 15 of 22 field goals (68.2 percent) and 37 of 43 extra points (86.0 percent); had 53 touchbacks on 83 kickoffs (63.9 percent)
Gross average of 45.1 yards on 54 punts with three touchbacks, net average of 37.8; two kickoffs for 105 yards (after two safeties)
67 total snaps; recorded one special teams tackle
60 total snaps; recorded one special teams tackle and recovered a fumble
15 kickoff returns for 352 yards (23.5 average) with a long of 33
Nine punt returns for 42 yards (4.7 average) with a long of 13; one kickoff return for 19 yards
Seven punt returns for 27 yards (3.9 average) with a long of eight; 14 kickoff returns for 303 yards (21.6 average) with a long of 38
Two kickoff returns for 31 yards (15.5 average)
One kickoff return for 17 yards
The highest high
1. Back in Week 12, the Vikings were 4-6 and trying to keep their slim postseason hopes alive. They did so with a narrow 28-27 win over the Panthers, but that victory likely wouldn't have happened without rookie defensive end D.J. Wonnum.
The 2020 fourth-round pick made a game-changing play in the third quarter when he leapt up and stretched out his 6-foot-5 frame to block a 28-yard field goal attempt.
The clutch play kept Carolina's lead at 21-10 and allowed Minnesota to put together a furious fourth-quarter rally to win by a single point.
Wonnum's blocked field goal was the second of two blocked kicks on the season, as Eric Wilson deflected an extra point against the Cowboys the week before.
The lowest lows
1. The Vikings were 6-6 and in the final Wild Card spot when they headed to Tampa Bay in mid-December.
But the trip to Florida was not a pleasant one for Bailey, who missed all four of his kicks against the Buccaneers.
The Vikings scored first but only led 6-0 after a missed extra point. Bailey then missed three field goal attempts throughout the game, pushing attempts from 36, 54 and 46 yards all to the right.
Minnesota lost 26-14 to fall out of the NFC playoff race as the Vikings missed out on 10 possible points from Bailey.
2. Sure, the Vikings earned a double-digit win in Week 9 over the Lions with a 34-20 home victory at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Yet even in a win, special teams couldn't put together a clean game as Detroit blocked a pair of Colquitt punts.
Maalouf said a few days after the game that the blocked punts were missed assignments by two different players, and that they each used poor technique on the plays.
The Vikings were one of two teams with multiple punts blocked in 2020, as the Chargers had three blocked this past season.
2 pressing questions for 2021
1. What impact does Ficken have in 2021?
Ficken was announced as Minnesota's new special teams coordinator earlier this week, and it was a well-deserved promotion for someone who has been in Purple for 14 seasons.
Zimmer recently said that he liked Ficken's energy and rapport with players, and that was evident by players such as Adam Thielen praising the move on Twitter.
Ficken will be tasked with turning around a unit that struggled mightily in 2020, of which he was a part of, but keep in mind he was also around when the Vikings had a strong stretch on special teams in recent seasons, too.
All eyes will be on Ficken to see if he's up for the challenge as a first-time coordinator.
2. Is there a kicking competition this offseason?
As mentioned above, Bailey was his usual consistent self for the majority of the 2020 season. But he fell into a deep slump to close out the season, and he also revealed he was dealing with a back injury for the final month of 2020.
The kicker signed a multi-year contract extension less than a year ago and has proven to be a steady veteran in the past.
Perhaps the Vikings keep Bailey on the roster this offseason and into training camp since there's no harm in doing so. But they could also bring in another kicker in free agency or the draft, which would mean a kicking competition ensues.
"I don't really want to get into the specifics too much on that but we obviously didn't play very well. A lot of the guys that should have been playing on special teams were playing on defense but we are going to shore up that area. That will be a major emphasis as well."
— Zimmer on his evaluation of special teams for this past season.
"There's a lot of guys who have gotten a lot of reps. A lot of young guys that have gotten a lot of reps. You would have hoped that they would have gotten the majority of them in the preseason, but 2020 as it is, it wasn't the case. But a lot of them have been battle-tested a little bit and are still going through it."
— Maalouf on the abundance of young players on special teams in 2020.