5 Vikings players with the most to prove in Week 1 vs. the Bengals

(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) Ihmir Smith-Marsette
(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) Ihmir Smith-Marsette /
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Minnesota Vikings
(Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) Ihmir Smith-Marsette /

The entire special teams unit

I know that only five players were supposed to be included in this post, but the special teams unit as a whole needs to play well this weekend, not just 1 specific player. The Vikings have been in special teams hell for what seems like an eternity, so with a lot of new faces, there can only be hope that they can turn things around. One bad game is not always a cause to overreact if you’re a fan of any other team, but that is not the case when it comes to the Vikings.

Greg Joseph is the new kicker in town, a position that was held by Dan Bailey until his disastrous 2020 campaign. Joseph has had stints in Cleveland, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay over the past three seasons, but has only attempted 20 field goals in that time, all with Cleveland back in 2018. Joseph hit 85 percent of his kicks in 2018, with all of his misses coming from 40+ yards away. At age 27, and with barely any playing experience, it will be interesting to see how Joseph plays in week 1, as his job is definitely not one that is solidified on the team.

Jordan Berry is now the new punter for the Vikings after they moved on from Britton Colquitt. Colquitt was a below-average punter for the team, heavily struggling at times and continuing his poor play this preseason, prompting the Vikings to sign Berry as his replacement. Berry is the former punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers, holding that position for 6 years before being replaced by rookie Pressley Harvin III, who is quite an impressive talent. The Vikings get an upgrade at the position with Jordan Berry, and though it would be nice if he didn’t need to showcase his ability, a solid week one outing for him would really make a lot of fans happy.

Now we get to the return men on the team, Dede Westbrook (punt returner) and Ihmir Smith-Marsette (kick returner). Dede Westbrook is in his first season with the team after spending his first four career years with Jacksonville. Westbrook returned punts in Jacksonville with some impressive production, as he averaged nearly 10 yards per return.

The plethora of Viking’s punt returners in 2020 barely got over the four yards per return margin, so Westbrook looks like a major upgrade at an underrated position. Westbrook is coming off an ACL tear in 2020, so this week is a big week for him to prove that he is fully healthy and ready to contribute on special teams and in the offensive scheme.

Next up is rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette out of Iowa, who is being tasked with returning kicks this week. A poor outing would not be the end of the world for him as this is his first career NFL start, but it would definitely be a great confidence boost to the coaching staff and himself if he showed out.

The kick returner position has not been very solid since Cordarelle Patterson left Minnesota, but Smith-Marsette was heavily praised coming out of college as a great return man, and this week will be his first chance to prove himself. If he were to show his ability this weekend in the return game, this could lead to more opportunities in the offense, so he’ll need to produce with every chance he gets if he wants his playing time to increase.

Special teams often get overlooked when you talk about how a team will do in their season, but they are still a very important piece to the winning puzzle. Minnesota has struggled over the years with their special teams play, so their fans know full well just how important a good special teams unit is.

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This week one matchup will be the first chance for Vikings fans to see the revamped special teams squad, and they will be hoping for a lot better than what they’ve seen before.

(All statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise stated)