Isn't That Special?

At the start of the 2003 season, the Vikings had to make a series of special teams changes -- from the coach to the kickers to the return men. After an awful 2003 season, the question now facing Mike Tice and the decision makers for the Vikings is will a wholesale change becoming again in 2004?

As the reality of the loss to the Cardinals still sinks in, the Vikings face a couple of serious questions concerning their special teams – arguably one of the worst in the NFL last season.

Rusty Tillman tops that list. The special teams coach saw his unit collapse time and again in 2003. Granted, it was dotted with first-time players, but, as the assessments at the end of the season come in, Tillman's job could be on the line if, after "grading out" performances, the special teams are viewed with a jaded eye.

Aaron Elling will likely also be on the hot seat. About midseason, Tice lost faith in Elling and began eshewing field goals of more than 45 yards to keep the offense on the field on fourth down. Toward the end of the season, they were refusing to kick field goals more often than they attempted them. Don't take our word for it. Let the numbers speak for themselves. In 16 games, the Vikings went for a first down on fourth down plays 20 times. For the purpose of comparison, no playoff team had that many fourth down attempts and the Packers tried it just seven times.
Eddie Johnson is in as dire a situation as Elling. After having an inconsistent year to begin with – ranked near the bottom of NFL punters for average – Johnson built up a propensity for dropping the ball, which resulted in a critical punt block vs. the Rams, a lucky break vs. the Seahawks and a game-loser vs. the Bears. He was replaced late in the season, but remains on the roster…for now.

With all the problems the Vikings need to address to get to be one of the elite teams in the NFL, special teams is clearly one of them because, from even the most optimistic point of view, the Vikes special teams are anything but special.

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