MINNEAPOLIS - Matt Daniels took the podium at TCO Performance Center on Monday, and was as fired up as any coach you’ll ever see during an NFL training camp.
Monday marked the first day of full pads for the Minnesota Vikings, but Daniels has a few decisions to make as they get near Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. They have to solidify who will take on the kick and punt returning duties, which role players can win a roster spot on special teams and there’s even a competition at punter.
One position where there currently is no competition? Kicker. The job is Greg Joseph’s.
"I have the utmost, highest confidence. I’ll put it on record right now and say that I firmly believe that Greg Joseph will have the best year of his career this year. I’ll put it out there right now, I’m sure of it," Daniels said Monday. "The way he finished up his summer, the way he prepared and how he has come back and hit the football has been the best that I’ve seen."
Joseph did face some competition during the team’s offseason program. The Vikings brought in undrafted free agent Gabe Brkic out of Oklahoma during OTAs and mini camp. Joseph responded by making 33 of his 35 kicks during three special teams sessions.
Brkic was released, and has since signed with the Green Bay Packers.
Given his first real chance at full-time kicking duties last season, Joseph mostly took advantage. He was a perfect 8-for-8 from 20-29 yards out, 11-of-12 from 30-39 yards out and 7-of-9 from both 40+ and 50-plus yards out. He was 33-of-38 (86.8 percent) on field goals and 36-of-40 (90 percent) on extra points. He also had nearly 81 percent of his kickoffs go for touchbacks.
His only real blemish? A missed walk-off field goal at Arizona Week 2 that would’ve given the Vikings a win.
Daniels said Joseph has an even-keeled approach to kicking, and he loves it.
"I tell Greg all the time just from a mindset standpoint, we have to find a way to stay neutral. A lot of the greats, Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, they always talk about the mindset of staying neutral. Never getting too high, never getting too low, just keep that even keel," Daniels said. "That’s kind of where Greg is at, and I love it. If that’s where he’s at, that’s where you want to be when you talk about that kicker position being the man in the arena."
Daniels has only been the special teams’ coordinator for five months, but a public backing of the kicker is a refreshing change from the past. Blair Walsh had a great start in Minnesota before hooking a field goal in a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks on a frigid day at then TCF Bank Stadium. Mike Zimmer cut Daniel Carlson two weeks into his rookie season, after a rough day against the Green Bay Packers.
Daniels couldn’t be happier to have Joseph back with the Vikings this season. He’s having assistant special teams coach Ben Kotwica work with Joseph on the mechanics side of things, knowing that his head is clear.
"You can just tell the process and the approach that he’s taking on each individual kick, you can tell he’s really dialed in, and I’m excited for Greg," Daniels said. "I’m thrilled to have him as my kicker, it’s going to be a heck of a year for him."