Vikings Coach Addresses “Mr. Wright’s Sophomore Slump”

Matt Daniels Is a Self-Confessed Flower Grower
Matt Daniels

The Minnesota Vikings have begun their voluntary offseason workout dates; the so-called OTAs or Organized Teams activities are the first time all players are on the field together. Some major storylines dominate the news, like the absence of star wideout Justin Jefferson or the development of rookie quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

Vikings Coach Addresses “Mr. Wright’s Sophomore Slump”

Vikings Coach Addresses "Mr. Wright's Sophomore Slump"
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One element that consistently flies under the radar is special teams. The game’s third phase is never as prominent as the offense and the defense, but a subpar performance can cost games just as quickly.

The personnel significantly changed at the kicker position. Whether sixth-round draft choice Will Reichard or former XFL standout John Parker Romo will win the competition in training camp remains to be seen. Greg Joseph signed with the Green Bay Packers and hopes to unseat Anders Carlson to start for the green rivals.

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The other specialist spot has remained steady for the third year, with Ryan Wright returning. Punter Wright was an undrafted rookie addition in 2022 and won the job over veteran Jordan Berry. He had a fantastic rookie campaign with powerful and precise kicks, but his sophomore season was a struggle.

Special teams coordinator Matt Daniels stepped in front of the media on Tuesday and was asked about his punter.

You look at any rookie, especially those who do have success in the first year like Mr. Wright did, either A you’re going to continue to accelerate on the path that you’re on or B, you’re going to have what’s considered to be a sophomore slump. I would consider the performance that he did have last year somewhat of a sophomore slump. (He had) the highest touchback percentage in the league, whereas in year one, he led the league in the lowest touchback percentage. So you look at what went into that, how we can coach it better, and how we can be better in that aspect of the game.

Matt Daniels
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Indeed, the numbers show some decline, especially regarding ball placement rather than the average punt length.

In 2023, Wright earned a punting grade of 68.3 from Pro Football Focus, ranking him 19th of 33 eligible punters. His average of 48.7 yards per punt lists him 11th in the league, but the net average, which considers returns and touchbacks, drops him to 16th. His hangtime ranked 10th.

Wright’s averages remained steady in his second season, but he was much better at threading the needle in the previous campaign when he dropped 43.8% of the punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (28.8% in 2023). His touchbacks also increased from only one to seven.

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Because of those issues, free-agent punter Seth Vernon was added in April. He was in the same draft class and UDFA pool as Wright but failed to win his competition versus Bradley Pinion with the Atlanta Falcons. He has not punted the ball in a regular season game.

Last year, Wright was the undisputed starter, but this year, the Vikings have sought competition at both the kicker and punter spots.

For now, incumbent starter Wright should still be considered the team’s punter come Week 1, but Vernon’s signing and Daniels’ comments have put him on notice.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt