The Vikings' special teams have been a mess since the day the team decided not to re-sign punter-kickoff specialist Mitch Berger following the 2001 season.
The Vikings saved about $1 million a year on what they would have had to pay to keep Berger around. But they lost consistency on kickoffs, kickoff coverage, punting and punt coverage in nearly every game since.
Originally, the post-Berger plan for 2002 called for Doug Brien to kick and Kyle Richardson to punt. Brien was a total bust and was run out of town that September as the Vikings lured Gary Anderson out of retirement. Richardson lasted a season and was allowed to leave.
In 2003, the team touted the arrival of special teams guru/coach Rusty Tillman. While Tillman improved the special teams a notch above the embarrassment of 2002, owner Red McCombs' decision to save even more money by force-feeding the team two cheap rookies at punter and kicker hurt the team again.
K Aaron Elling was inconsistent last season. The coaches lost confidence in his range, causing them to forgo too many makeable field goals to go for it on risky fourth-and-short situations. P Eddie Johnson, a sixth-round draft pick in 2003, was inconsistent all season and finally was benched because he fumbled snaps in three consecutive games. Leo Araguz was signed off the street to finish the last three weeks of the season.
Elling went into this season as the No. 1 kicker, but a meltdown in practice and in the third preseason game resulted in his release. Brett Conway was brought in for one preseason game but was released in favor of Morten Andersen.
Andersen has been a steadying force at place-kicker, but he's too old to kick off. The Vikings tried him in that role once, and it was a disaster.
Elling was re-signed to handle kickoffs. But in typical Vikings special teams luck, Elling had just found a groove when he broke his right ankle trying to make a tackle against the Colts two weeks ago.
Jose Cortez was signed and was terrible on kickoffs against the Packers. His average kickoff went to just inside the 14-yard line. The Packers had kickoff returns of 55 and 37 yards.
Ironically, the most disappointing specialist is the guy the Vikings spent the most money on this past offseason, P Darren Bennett. A 39-year-old veteran with two Pro Bowl appearances, Bennett has the second-worst punting average (37.3) among eligible punters in the league. His net average is 33.3.
Tillman spent much of Monday screaming at his special-teamers because of poor coverage techniques. Hopefully they listened.
Otherwise, Tillman will have even more to yell about next Monday. The Vikings play the Lions at the Metrodome on Sunday. Lions PR-KR Eddie Drummond has a kickoff return for a touchdown and had two punt returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter of Sunday's overtime loss to Jacksonville.
Special Teams A Mess Since Berger's Departure
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