The Vikings are promoting longtime coach Ryan Ficken to special teams coordinator, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. Ficken, who has been with the Vikings since 2007, will replace Marwan Maalouf and take over a unit that struggled mightily in 2020.
The Vikings also interviewed Anthony Blevins, a former assistant special teams coach with the Giants and Cardinals. But in the end, they elected to promote from within and keep a certain level of continuity on special teams. That might come as a surprising decision given how awful they were in that phase last season, but it's hard to know if any of that was Ficken's fault.
After 14 years as an assistant position coach, Ficken is finally going to get his chance to be a coordinator. He began his Vikings career as an assistant running backs coach, moved to assistant receivers coach for four seasons, and spent the last eight years as an assistant special teams coach. After attending Arizona State and spending a year as a GA at UCLA, Ficken latched on with the Vikings and has stuck around through two head coaching changes.
Ficken has a lot of work to do in order to improve a Vikings special teams unit that was an unmitigated, historic disaster in 2020. According to DVOA, the Vikings lost the second-most value on special teams of any team over the past eight seasons last year. It legitimately might have cost them multiple wins.
Here are some of the notes I made on the special teams unit earlier this offseason when writing about Maalouf being let go.
- They ranked dead last in punt return average at 4.3 yards per return. Their longest return of the season was 13 yards, and it happened in Week 17.
- They ranked dead last in starting field position on BOTH offense and defense. That put them at a huge disadvantage on both sides of the ball.
- Punter Britton Colquitt ranked 31st in net punting average, and the Vikings allowed the third-most punt return yards in the league.
- Dan Bailey had an awful season, missing 13 kicks, ten of which came in the last five games.
- Minnesota was one of seven teams to allow a kickoff return TD, with Cordarrelle Patterson taking one to the house on MNF in Week 10.
- Rookie WR K.J. Osborn, drafted in the fifth round as a return specialist, was a major disappointment who eventually lost both the punt and kick return jobs.
So yeah, it'll be a busy offseason for Ficken. The Vikings could theoretically have a new kicker, a new punter, and new returners next season. It'll be on Ficken to put all of those players in the best position to succeed, and to work a new batch of young players into the mix on all of the special teams kick and punt units.
Ficken is the second Vikings hire reported today. They are also adding Keenan McCardell as receivers coach, which I think is a fantastic pickup. Now, the only remaining vacancies on the staff are offensive coordinator (Klint Kubiak is the heavy favorite) and defensive backs coach. Mike Zimmer is also reportedly looking to bring in an older coach on the offensive side of the ball, perhaps as an advisor.
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