MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a dearth of storylines in the Vikings’ training camp this summer, despite the fact Mike Zimmer’s team is coming off a disappointing 8-7-1 finish and another poor season could cost Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman their jobs.
About the only real intrigue when the team reported to Eagan was who would be the third wide receiver and that subject got old pretty quickly. But, thankfully, this franchise is unable to keep things boring even when the opportunity presents itself and so the past week has been spent trying to figure out who the Vikings’ kicker and punter are going to be.
It began last Sunday when Vikings general manager Rick Spielman sent a 2020 fifth-round pick to Baltimore for kicker and punter Kaare Vedvik, putting kicker Dan Bailey and punter/holder Matt Wile on notice. While these dramatics seemed unnecessary, they also weren’t surprising.
In six seasons as Vikings’ coach, Mike Zimmer has established a love-hate relationship with kickers and punters that far more often leans toward hate. Blair Walsh (a sixth-round pick); Kai Forbath; Daniel Carlson (a fifth-round pick); and Bailey all have held the kicking job. Carlson had it for only two regular-season games in 2018 before a brutal performance in Green Bay got him jettisoned. Jeff Locke (a fifth-round pick); Ryan Quigley and Wile have had turns at punter.
Zimmer has spent his life devoted to football and, in particular, coming up with defensive schemes to stop high-powered offenses. The theory here is that he can’t believe that after all that work and all that scheming a game can come down to some average-sized guy trotting on the field and using his foot to decide a game.
There was some thought that when the Vikings decided to hire former Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding as a consultant in May that Kaeding could keep Zimmer at a distance from his kickers. It’s pretty clear that hasn’t happened.
The best part — and really the most Vikings thing about it — was that Zimmer would not provide any details of how he planned to use Vedvik before Sunday’s exhibition game against Seattle at U.S. Bank Stadium. At least Zimmer did not make his plans public and, with how he operates, there was a good chance that Bailey and Wile also were left in the dark.
Some answers began to surface in the Vikings’ 25-19 victory over the Seahawks. Bailey, coming off an awful practice on Friday in Eagan in which he missed 3-of-6 field-goal attempts, finished the Vikings’ second drive by making a 24-yard field goal from the right hashmark to give Minnesota 3-0 lead late in the opening quarter. He also made the Vikings’ first extra-point attempt.
Vedvik handled most of the punting duties — he averaged 46.7 yards (34.7 net) on three punts and put one inside the Seattle 20-yard line — and was used on kickoffs. Seattle returned three kicks and Vedvik had two touchbacks. He also made an extra-point in the third quarter. Wile, who had been the holder for Bailey last season, did not get off the bench until 16 seconds remained in the game and he was brought on to punt. Wide receiver Chad Beebe held on Bailey’s field goal and all extra-point attempts.
So that clears it up, right? Bailey will kick, despite his struggles in training camp practices; Vedvik will punt and handle kickoffs; Beebe has won the holding competition (if it can be called a competition); and Wile will look for employment elsewhere.
While all of that is logical to assume, don’t think for one second that Zimmer and Spielman are going to spell out their plans for us, or for anyone else. There is another week of practice and then the Vikings will play host to Arizona next Saturday in their third preseason game. There is still the potential that Vedvik could be called on to kick and punt, although that would be a lot to ask for a 25-year-old who has never appeared in an NFL regular-season game.
“I thought he did well,” Zimmer said. “He kicked the ball deep. Had the one extra point or field goal, I don’t remember what it was. He punted OK. We’ll just keep looking at him and see where we’re at from there but we won’t make a decision today.”
It’s worth noting that while Vedvik only had one extra-point attempt, he did spend much of his time on the sideline kicking into a net and was working on field-goal attempts before halftime ended with Beebe holding and rookie long snapper Austin Cutting. In the third quarter, Vedvik worked on his punting into the net, then took long snaps from Cutting and finally went back to working on kicks. Wile, meanwhile, went to the opposite side of the bench and punted into another net, while Cutting and Beebe worked on snaps and holds. Got all that?
While Bailey and Wile would probably appreciate some clarity — Vedvik is in no jeopardy of not making the roster after Spielman traded a draft pick for him — it likely isn’t going to come as soon as they would like. The good thing is it provides a bit of intrigue in what has been a bland camp for a team that is usually no stranger to chaos.