Only a few more days until the Vikings kick off out here in Washington, D.C. and thankfully, the preseason is finally over. Since the season will be upon us soon, I'm going to take a look at how the three units and the coaching staff compare with last year, culminating with my prediction for the season. I'm going to start this week just like a football game, with a look at the Vikings' Special Teams on the eve of the season (well that's kind of a fun little idea, isn't it?)
Kicker: Ryan Longwell
One of the Vikings' best offseason moves was replacing Paul Edinger with Ryan Longwell. As every Vikings' fan knows, Longwell has been consistent and clutch for the Pack the last 10 years, though he did have some problems with his accuracy last year, as he only completed 74% of his kicks, down from his 85% average the year before. His problems came when he lined up for kicks between 30-39 yards, only making 6-10, his worst percentage from that distance in his career. This preseason, however, he's been great, converting 5/5 under 40 yards and making 2 of his 3 40+ yard kicks. If he stays consistent on mid range kicks, he should be a massive upgrade over Edinger, both in terms of accuracy and range.
Punter: Chris Kluwe
There was some cause for concern here, since Kluwe had offseason knee surgery, but if anything, he's been better this preseason than he was last year. Kluwe is a good punter, and barring any injuries, he's going to be the replacement for Mitch Berger that the Vikings have been looking for.
Punt Returner: Mewelde Moore (?)
Like last year, Mewelde Moore is going to be returning punts, provided that he manages to stay healthy. Moore's injury problems are a big reason why exposing Jason Carter to waivers is a mistake. Mewelde seems to get dinged up a lot, and if he misses a game, as seems very likely, the Vikings would have to use Travis Taylor, who hasn't fielded a punt yet this year.
Kick Returner: Kevin Kaspar
Kaspar has looked good so far this year and he had better continue to perform, as the Vikings are going to rely on their return games a lot this year for both field position and points, just like last year. If Kaspar can't replicate the explosiveness of Koren Robinson, it's going to be a major blow to their ability to put points up on the board. This is where those drinks Koren knocked back are going to hurt the Vikings the most.
The Vikings improved at kicker and brought back a quality punter, but their reliance on the question mark that is Mewelde Moore, when combined with the loss of Koren Robinson mean their return game is worse than last year's, and Longwell just isn't enough of an improvement over Edinger to make this year's unit better than last year's.