New for 2019 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, Vikings Daily Digest will deliver content directly from Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center with news of the day and a few recurring elements.
EAGAN, Minn. — Like most NFL training camps, the Vikings special teams units are about position competitions and building depth.
The twist for the Vikings this year, however, is that the competition is at a couple of positions that have been manned for the past several seasons (long snapper and punt returner).
Incumbent long snapper Kevin McDermott has started 63 of a possible 64 regular-season games since winning the job in a competition with Cullen Loeffler in the 2015 training camp. Loeffler played in 171 games for Minnesota from 2004-14.
The Vikings essentially haven't had an open spot at punt returner since Marcus Sherels came to the forefront in 2011. Sherels signed with New Orleans this offseason.
New Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf said Saturday that he wants to give McDermott and seventh-round draft pick Austin Cutting an equal number of reps to assess the competition.
"They're both talented long snappers. I said in the spring that we have two NFL long snappers, so it's going to be a big competition," Maalouf said. "Austin is going to have to work for it. The good thing with Kevin is he's risen to the competition. Any time you bring someone in to compete with somebody, all of a sudden, their game steps up big time, and he's done a good job so far."
Bailey went 4-for-7 on kicks during team periods Friday. The veteran was good from 33 and 36 yards but missed from 41 during his first three kicks with McDermott at long snapper.
The Vikings circled back to another three kicks with Cutting at long snapper later in the practice. After a 39-yarder was wide right, Bailey was good from 43 and 47.
The day, however, ended with a situational drill where Bailey got a shot at a 49-yard field goal that would break a 20-all tie just before halftime. That kick was off the mark.
Maalouf is optimistic that the snap, hold, kick operation was rusty after a break of five-plus weeks and will return to what it was as the spring offseason program was winding down.
"It takes a little time for those guys to get their rhythm back, especially if they're not together [for a while]," Maalouf said. "When he finished OTAs, they were doing really well. I think a lot of you guys were at [spring] practice. Yesterday was day one. We've got two long snappers, so we've got to get used to a couple of different things. It wasn't all on Dan. We've got to clean up the operation. It's just so early, so ask me again in a week, and I'll hopefully have a more detailed answer for you."
Maalouf said he's previously approached dividing preseason game reps for long snappers in various ways, and it could depend on how many kicks are attempted within a game.
In the meantime, holder Matt Wile and Bailey will continue to work on the timing with each snapper.
"No two pitchers pitch the same, you know what I mean? It's almost the same thing," Maalouf said. "That ball can come different ways, slight angles mean a ton, especially for the holder and kicker. You'd be surprised. There's a lot of differences. There are just very small details, and those are the things we'll keep looking for. Tempo is huge; building the tempo for the kicker, the holder and the whole thing is what makes a good field goal kicker. All of the great ones have tempo to the ball."
The Vikings worked on punt return near the start of Friday's practice. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, along with Mike Hughes, who is rehabbing a torn ACL, stood near a group of players cycling through reps.
Chad Beebe, Ameer Abdullah, Craig James, Bisi Johnson, Dillon Mitchell, Davion Davis, De'Angelo Henderson, Duke Thomas and Jordan Taylor all had opportunities. It wasn't part of the plan, but even guard Josh Kline fielded one cleanly.
"We've got to find more returners," Maalouf said. "There's a couple of guys we're thinking about, but to me, you can't ever have enough."
Maalouf said he would like to have a variety of punt returners "that are good at different things, because then we can use them in different situations, and I think that keeps opponents guessing."
"They've got to prepare. I know when I game-plan against a punt return unit and they have multiple returners, you have to be ready for that. One guy may be good at something, so you've got to get the guys tuned in to what makes that guy so special, and now you might have to cover differently."
Quote of the Day
"I think we're in a really good spot. The coaches did a great job of preparing us through OTAs, minicamp, really taking advantage of those reps and those practices, so I think it really prepared us well to come in here to training camp and start over again and re-learn it. So I think we're in a good spot. Obviously, there's a lot of changes and little things that I'm sure we'll put in along these next couple weeks, but it's been exciting, it's been fun to learn the system, and hopefully we can keep continuing to grow and make it our own."
— Receiver Adam Thielen
Viktor the Viking helped remind fans about the Huddle for 100 (#VikingsHuddleFor100) that is going on at training camp. The initiative, which will involve a variety of community service projects at camp and beyond, is part of the NFL's celebration of the league's 100th season.
This is the second year of Verizon Vikings Training Camp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, but many will be attending a practice here for the first time, including fan Neal Edward Johnson, who was posted up in TCO Stadium before Saturday's practice.
Families from the Crescent Cove Respite & Hospice Home for Kids were invited to Saturday's walk-through practice. Players signed autographs and took photos with the group.
Cresent Cove offers care and support to children and young adults with a shortened life expectancy.
Pat Elflein has visited Crescent Cove and wore custom-painted shoes in honor of the patients and families during the 2018 "My Cause, My Cleats" game.
"It was an incredible place. The work the people do there and the vibe that they create – I could feel it right when I walked in the door," Elflein told Vikings.com. "It's sad and unfortunate situations that the kids are in, but it was an immediate feeling of happiness when you walked into the home. For the people at Crescent Cove to create an environment like that for kids who are at end of life, it was something very special for me to witness, and I'm happy to represent them."