Common Connections: Vikings-Saints Filled With Familiar Foes

Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen

With 53-man rosters constantly turning over and assistant coaches always looking for bigger roles, each NFL matchup contains its share of personnel that spent time with the opponent.

Sunday’s Vikings-Saints game is no different.

Here’s a look at the half-dozen players and coaches that will be facing their former squad.

Minnesota Vikings K Kai Forbath

The Vikings kicker, now playing for his third team, previously believed he had found a home in New Orleans after being cut from the Washington Redskins in 2015 for his weak leg on kickoffs. Forbath kicked in 10 games for the Saints in 2015, going 9 of 13.

Forbath then went 4 of 5 on kicks in the 2016 preseason and appeared to have made the team, so he secured an apartment in the city. But as Forbath was preparing for New Orleans’ Week 1 game against the Oakland Raiders, he got a call from head coach Sean Payton.

“They worked out the young guy [Wil] Lutz and Coach Payton said he just had a gut feeling that he had to go with him,” said Forbath, “so they gave him a shot.”

Forbath found himself out of work until the Vikings brought him aboard in Week 11 of 2016 to replace Blair Walsh. Since, he is 47 of 53 (88.7 percent) on field goal attempts, but just 45 of 53 (84.9 percent) on extra points.

Lutz has been more inaccurate than Forbath on field goals (84.3 percent) but better on extra points (96 percent) the last two seasons in New Orleans.

Minnesota Vikings DT Tom Johnson

After spending time in the Canadian Football League, Tom Johnson locked on with the Saints in 2011 as a rotational defensive tackle. Over the next three seasons, he recorded 35 tackles and five sacks, getting his first career sack in 2011 against Christian Ponder and the Vikings.

But after seeing his role reduced in 2013 with New Orleans, Johnson became a free agent who was about to turn 30. The Vikings gave him a one-year, $845K contract, which he turned into a three-year, $7 million extension the next offseason following a productive first year in Mike Zimmer’s system.

“Tom is definitely one of those guys that can play 3-technique, he can play nose if we need him to play nose, and he can rush the passer really well as well,” said teammate Brian Robison, “so definitely an underrated player on our defense.”

Johnson went to the playoffs twice with the Saints: 2011 and 2013. Both times they lost in the Divisional Round.

Sunday he hopes to send his former team packing once again.

Minnesota Vikings LB Coach Adam Zimmer

The head coach’s son, Adam, got his NFL coaching career started as the Saints’ assistant linebackers coach from 2006-09. His final season with the Saints ended in a Super Bowl victory after New Orleans dispatched of Brett Favre and the Vikings in the memorable 2009 NFC Championship Game.

Mike Zimmer, who was the Bengals defensive coordinator at the time, attended the game.

“I was just sitting there observing,” said Zimmer. “I wasn’t really rooting for anybody or anything like that.”

New Orleans Saints FB Zach Line

After spending parts of four seasons with the Vikings, fullback Zach Line was not re-signed in free agency last spring, opening the door for C.J. Ham to claim the job.

“[Line] had a hip surgery that he wasn’t able to go with, and he wasn’t going to be ready until training camp, so we moved on,” said Zimmer.

The SMU alum rushed for two touchdowns and caught another in limited touches with the Vikings, but he was given the ball at the goal line last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and scored a key 1-yard touchdown in New Orleans’ playoff win.

After blocking for Adrian Peterson for the majority of his time in Minnesota, Line aided in the Saints’ top-five rushing attack, led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.

According to Pro Football Focus, Line was the third-best fullback in the NFL behind Patrick Ricard and James Develin.

New Orleans LB Michael Mauti

After being taken in the seventh round by the Vikings in 2013, Mauti spent two fairly uneventful years in Minnesota, getting 12 total defensive snaps.

Mauti was signed by the Saints in 2015 and is still seldom utilized on the defensive side, but his special teams prowess has kept him around for the last three years.

Mauti overcame tremendous medical odds when he opted to surgically remove his large intestine in 2017 as a result of ulcerative colitis.

He’s also become a fan favorite in New Orleans because his father, Rich, played for the Saints from 1977-83.

New Orleans LB Gerald Hodges

The former Vikings fourth-round pick has bounced around since leaving Minnesota.

After stints in San Francisco and Buffalo, Hodges has settled in New Orleans, where he has 12 snaps on defense and 178 on special teams this season.

Hodges lost his job to rookie Eric Kendricks in 2015, which led to him being traded to the 49ers for Nick Easton. But he’ll always have this pick-six of Geno Smith.

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