The most significant part of the Minnesota Vikings' offseason program begins today, when the team will hold 10 organized team activities and a three-day mandatory minicamp in a four-week stretch. Today, we're concluding our position-by-position look at the Vikings' roster, and some key battles to watch:
Position: Special teams
Who's new: The Vikings signed long snapper Kevin McDermott to a two-year deal in April, providing some competition for veteran Cullen Loeffler less than a month after the team brought Loeffler back on a one-year deal.
1. Blair Walsh: Despite a stretch of missed kicks at the end of the season, Walsh still is one of the league's top kickers, with a big leg that's especially effective on kickoffs. He's scheduled to hit free agency in March, which means he'll probably have a new contract before then.
1. Jeff Locke: It's a pivotal season for the third-year punter, who hasn't proven to be the field position weapon the Vikings thought they were getting when they took him in the fifth round to replace Chris Kluwe in 2013. Thanks in part to a stretch of touchbacks in the middle of the season, Locke ranked among the league's lowest in percentage of punts inside the 5- and 10-yard lines, as well as average starting field position after a punt. He'll have to improve in Year 3 to quash any possibility of the Vikings bringing in competition.
1. Loeffler: He'll go in as the incumbent, and his 2015 contract includes $300,000 of guaranteed money, but the move to sign McDermott could suggest the Vikings are looking beyond Loeffler, who turned 34 in January. He had a number of shaky snaps in 2014, especially the low snap that led to a blocked punt and a decisive safety in Week 16 in Miami, and the Vikings' elder statesman will need to rebound in 2015.
2. McDermott: The former 49ers and Ravens long snapper could get a shot to supplant Loeffler. There's no guaranteed money in his two-year deal, but the Vikings haven't felt a need to bring in competition for Loeffler in the past. McDermott is 25, and could be next in line at a position where turnover is rare unless there's a reason to consider it.
Position battles to watch: Long snapper is the only one here, and while it's not going to grab many headlines, it does bear watching during spring workouts and training camp. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer hasn't held many position battles among his specialists; the Vikings have typically dispatched veterans like Kluwe and Ryan Longwell after younger successors like Locke and Walsh handled themselves at the team's rookie camp. Things will be different here, however, and it'll be interesting to see how the Vikings handle practice time at a position Loeffler has held since 2004.