After a season filled with special teams miscues at every level, the Minnesota Vikings decided to move on from special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf and promote longtime assistant Ryan Ficken.
Ficken, Minnesota’s longest-tenured coach, has been with the team for 14 seasons and will take on a larger role for a team with special teams issues for decades. From Gary Anderson‘s miss in the 1998 NFC Championship game to Blair Walsh’s Shank at the Bank in 2016 to having the second-worst special teams unit last year, Ficken must quickly stabilize a weak spot.
Many former and current players believe he can. Adam Thielen, whose first touchdown came on a blocked punt return against the Carolina Panthers in 2014, was quick to endorse him.
Thielen wasn’t the only player to praise Ficken. Chad Greenway and Ben Leber also went to Twitter to congratulate him. Even former long snapper Kevin McDermott, who infamously lost a finger midgame and proceeded to play, applauded the promotion of Ficken.
While Ficken is getting praise right now, he will have to sort out a special teams unit mess, a job that comes with much scrutiny and pressure.
Last season Minnesota finished with the lowest efficiency in placekicking and the second-lowest efficiency in kickoffs, punts, and punt returns. These horrific performances helped propel them to the second-worst special teams DVOA. Only the Los Angeles Chargers were worse.
According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings’ special teams left 47 points on the board, which contributed to them missing the playoffs by one game. While Dan Bailey had an objectively lousy season, missing a combined seven kicks in Weeks 10 and 11, he alone isn’t to blame for the special team’s failures.
Longsnapper Austin Cutting had trouble placing his snap correctly — remember the extra point attempt where he rolled the ball to the holder? — which resulted in the Vikings releasing him. This change could have messed with Bailey’s routine, resulting in his missed kicks at the end of the year.
While the kicking unit struggled, the punt and punt return units might have been worse. The Vikings switched between punt returners multiple times because both Chad Beebe and rookie K.J. Osborn had trouble hanging onto the ball. They also provided little upside in the return game: The longest punt return this season was 13 yards in a meaningless Week 17 game in Detroit.
Worse yet? Britton Colquitt ranked 31st in net punt average, and the punt team allowed the third-most punt return yards. These gaffs on punts and returns resulted, in part, in the Vikings finishing the year dead last in both offensive and defensive field position.
While Ficken has a challenging task ahead of him, his longevity with the team could help him as it did for Kevin Stefanski before he was named offensive coordinator. While I’m not saying that Ficken will get a head coaching job in one season and turn a downtrodden franchise around, we should be optimistic about what he could bring to the team.[h/t Heavy]