There will be competition at long snapper during training camp next month as Cullen Loeffler and Kevin McDermott battle for the starting job. The Vikings opted not to bring in another punter to compete with Jeff Locke, however.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer after the season did not recommend bringing in another punter and kicker to compete with Locke and Blair Walsh. Specifically with Locke, who will enter his third season, Priefer said Locke’s confident did not play a factor into the decision of sticking with one punter.
“He’s a pretty mentally tough kid,” Priefer said. “I don’t think he would have a problem with it, but I just didn’t think it was necessary at this time.”
Locke, 25, lacked consistently again last year. He finished 21st with a net average of 38.7 yards on 75 punts and his touchbacks increased from three to six last year. It was the first season the Vikings played outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium, and Locke fared slightly better on the road (39.9 net yards average) than he did at home (37.4 net yards average).
“We can talk about weather until we are blue in the face, it doesn’t matter,” Priefer said. “The opposing team’s kicking in the same weather and we were out punted a few times last year where I felt like we had the better punter. So punting’s got to improve, the snapping needs to improve. Some areas of protection we need to improve on. Coverage was really good last year; we just need to be more consistent. We do it all the time, not four out of five reps, but every rep.”
The Vikings could always bring in a punter in the event something changes during training, but it appears Locke will have the opportunity to find consistency without worrying about his starting job. We’ll see if he improves in Year 3.
It’s late June, when all Super Bowl titles are won.
Scratch that, we’re about as far from the Super Bowl as possible.
Late June is the time when NFL folks start to try to determine the contenders and pretenders — which includes determining which teams might be in a position to surprise.
The Vikings appear to be a trendy “surprise” pick to go from 7-9 a season ago to a winning record and possibly a playoff berth this season. The latest to give the Vikings praise? ESPN’s John Clayton. The reasons he cites — Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and a strong defense — are all solid ones.
It’s not a stretch to expect a healthy Peterson to add 30 yards a game to the Vikings running offense, which would be worth around two or three points per game. That type of improvement should make the Vikings a playoff team. Since 2003, teams that have made the playoffs averaged 25.2 points a game. Any offense that can put up between 23.5-25 points per game is playoff worthy. If coach Mike Zimmer can continue to work his magic with the defense — the Vikings went from 32nd in points allowed in 2013 to 11th last season — Minnesota could jump from 7-9 to 9-7 or maybe 10-6.
While it’s prudent to be cautious before a single game has been played, I agree that 10-6 isn’t all that far-fetched. To me, it all hinges on the offensive line. If that unit protects Bridgewater, the offense will be fine. If not, progress will stall.