EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf believes an aggressive mindset and knowledge of in-game situations are key to the identity he wants to build in Minnesota’s special teams units.
Maalouf, whom the Vikings hired as their new special teams coordinator heading into the 2019 season, spoke to Twin Cities media members Thursday afternoon. The former offensive lineman said that Minnesota’s special teams will be founded on those two qualities.
“Whatever the situation in the game dictates is how we want to adapt to it. I think that’s important,” Maalouf said. “I think special teams can really complement offense and defense based on what the situation is in the game.”
Maalouf is entering his 15th NFL season and said he’s prided himself in each of his previous stops on having smart players who commit minimal penalties.
“But we like to be aggressive, too,” Maalouf said. “Our system is built around the players and around our personnel, and I like to think that it’s easy for our guys but hard on the opponents.
Added Maalouf: “Sometimes unpredictability is a great thing, as well. We’re going to use all those.”
Maalouf served as the Colts special teams coordinator during the 2012 season and also has spent time with the Dolphins (2013-18), Ravens (2008-11) and Browns (2004-06). Throughout his time in the NFL, he has been a part of six playoff appearances and one division title.
View photos of the 2019 Minnesota Vikings coaching staff.
Asked about the process of returning to the coordinator role after six seasons as Miami’s assistant special teams coordinator, Maalouf said the interim time has been a “learning experience.” He assured that while he’s always wanted to be back in this position, he’s been careful not to hurry the process.
“I feel like if you work and you learn from the people that you’re around, at some point it’s going to happen, and it’ll happen at the right place – like being here,” he said.
Since being hired by the Vikings and until April 15 when the players arrive back at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for the offseason workout program, Maalouf and the rest of the Vikings coaching staff are in the thick of evaluating Minnesota’s current roster and potential players to add.
He specifically was asked about the Vikings kicker situation. Minnesota drafted Daniel Carlson last spring but released the rookie after he missed three field goals at Green Bay in Week 2. The Vikings then signed veteran kicker Dan Bailey, who made 21 of 28 field goal attempts in his first season in Purple. He made all but one of his 31 point-after attempts.
“Right now, all things are on the table,” Maalouf said. “We’re starting to look at draft kickers, free agent kickers, and that’s something that obviously I’ve had good luck with in the past. We’ve always had good kickers where I’ve been, and sometimes they haven’t had the best years, as well, but we’ve always had options.
“I think the most important thing is to overturn every rock and find somebody that fits what we’re trying to do – whether it’s a veteran or a young guy,” he added.
Maalouf pointed out that he’s still “in the process” of evaluating Bailey – and not only his 2018 campaign but his NFL career as a whole. Prior to joining the Vikings, Bailey had the second-best field goal percentage in league history.
“I know he hasn’t been here very long, so I don’t know if that has something to do with it or not,” Maalouf said. “Just building that relationship with him and the operation is pretty important, too. That’s still stuff that we’re looking at.”
What are some qualities that Minnesota’s new special coordinator looks for in a kicker?
He mentioned both the tangible keys – flight of the ball, rotation, approach to the ball – in addition to the mental aspect of the game.
“You know, you ideally would like football players who happen to kick,” Maalouf said. “I think if you find those types of guys, those are the ones who stick through with longer success.”
Maalouf explained that even though he’s the coach, he’s learned plenty from players over the years. In his time with special teams, he’s worked with the likes of Adam Vinatieri, Phil Dawson and Matt Stover – some of the most reliable kickers in the game.
He said he “probably took more notes” from the trio than anyone else he’s crossed paths with.
“Those guys happen to be really good football players,” Maalouf said. “[I appreciate their] mentality as far as being a football player first and then a kicker second.”
The Vikings introduced special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf, assistant head coach/offensive advisor Gary Kubiak, quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, offensive line coach/ run game coordinator Rick Dennison, tight ends coach Brian Pariani, and wide receivers Drew Petzing to the media on Thursday afternoon.
Maalouf is looking forward to the team returning in just under two months so he can begin building rapport with his new players. He told media members that he “loves” the Vikings current roster of special teamers and is focused mainly on putting them in the right situation and refining their technique.
“We’re going to spend a lot of days in [organized team activities] and minicamp with technique,” Maalouf said. “It’s muscle memory. It’s them getting off the ball, knowing what to do when the ball’s snapped, getting past the line of scrimmage, getting their hands up. Just the little things that we’re going to always practice.”
In a recent interview with Vikings.com’s Mike Wobschall, Maalouf said it isn’t fair to specify “one mold” of special teams player because the unit works with a patchwork of offensive and defensive players.
That being said, however, the mentality of special teamers is important. Maalouf believes in defining a role for each individual player, whether he’s contributing to just one phase or on all four phases of special teams.
“I think defining their roles and getting them to understand it, and then getting them excited about that role, all of a sudden you have all walks of life – whether it’s a safety or a running back – we work with everybody that’s going to be on the roster,” Maalouf told Wobschall. “So if we’ve got five great running backs and four of them are going to be core special teams players, then somehow we’re going to make it work. I think our open-mindedness to do that is what’s going to make us successful.”
Maalouf coached against his new team not too long ago, when the Dolphins visited the Vikings in December. Asked about specific players in Minnesota that he’s excited to work with, he highlighted Anthony Harris, Holton Hill, Ben Gedeon and Jayron Kearse.
“There’s a lot of good guys that I’m excited to work with,” Maalouf said. “There’s a lot of good players who did a lot of good things on special teams.”