Yes, I apologize. . .I'm sort of taking the easy way out on this one. Hey, it's the weekend, and this one still has to be done, so let's get it out of the way, shall we? The Vikings are pretty well set at all of the special teams positions. Ryan Longwell is going to be the kicker, Chris Kluwe is going to be the punter, and Cullen Loeffler is going to be the long snapper.
I know that Steven Hauschika, a rookie from North Carolina State, is currently on the roster as a kicker, but he's pretty much just there to give Ryan Longwell a break during the pre-season. I don't think he's a serious threat to Longwell's job security or anything. Nor should he be, considering that Longwell has been pretty outstanding for us in the two seasons he's been in a Viking uniform. Since escaping Green Bay for the much, much greener pastures of the Twin Cities, Longwell is 41/49 in the field goal department (missing 4 field goals in each season), and 5 of his 8 misses have been from 50+ yards out. He's even thrown a TD pass since joining the Vikings (Week 2 against Carolina in 2006). Longwell has also managed to improve his kickoffs since coming to Minnesota as well. He'll continue to be the Vikings' kicker for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, nobody has been brought in to compete with Chris Kluwe as of yet, and I'd be surprised if anybody was. . .although the Vikings DID work out an Australian punter by the name of Shane Phillips, according to the blog of former Vikings' special teams coach Gary Zauner. However, Kluwe isn't going anywhere. The best Vikings' rookie of 2005. . .which is sad, considering he was a UDFA and not part of our actual draft class. . .has done a solid job for the Vikings thus far. I've got a soft spot in my heart for anyone that can go out and punt with a torn knee ligament, which is what Kluwe did towards the end of his rookie season after getting injured. The Vikings signed him to a long-term deal not too long ago, so they obviously think he's the answer at punter. With the way he's performed in his three seasons in Minnesota, I see no reason to disagree.
Cullen Loeffler is the long snapper. He. . .ummmmm. . .snaps the ball. Long. He's been doing the job for Minnesota since 2004, and to be honest, I can't remember very many bad snaps during that time, if there have been any at all. Long snappers are like baseball umpires. . .we don't notice them unless they screw something up. The fact that I don't have a whole lot to say about Loeffler means that I haven't noticed him much. . .which, in this case, can only be considered a good thing.
So now that we've talked about the specialists, let's take a look at a couple of positions that need to be filled by guys that we've already discussed. I'm referring to the positions of kick returner and punt returner.
I've mentioned my confusion over the signing of Maurice Hicks before, because from all of the reports that have been out there, the guy was primarily signed for his return skills. It's puzzling because I thought that Aundrae Allison had done an outstanding job in that role for Minnesota in 2007, with his 3 returns of 60+ yards and 28.7 yard return average. Hicks is also the #3 running back, but come on. . .barring injuries to both Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson, how many snaps is he actually going to get back there?
I guess that I really, really just don't understand the role Maurice Hicks fills on this football team at the moment. Allison is our best kick returner, in my opinion, and is the best choice to stay there. I know that Allison's role in the offense might be increasing, but he's still, at best, the #4 guy on the depth chart right now (behind Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, and Bobby Wade), and possibly lower depending on your opinion of Robert Ferguson. Allison has great speed, good moves, and seems to be a natural returner. If I'm the Vikings, I'm not sure I want to mess with that.
As far as punt returning goes, our main guy last year was Mewelde Moore, who has since moved on to Pittsburgh. The only other guy on the roster that returned any punts last year was Bobby Wade. Neither of them have met a fair catch that they didn't like. Hicks, again, doesn't seem to fit in here either, as he hasn't returned a single punt in his 4 years in the NFL. This will be one of the more intriguing positions to watch in training camp this year. Is this going to be how rookie Jaymar Johnson makes his way on to the roster? Will the Vikings give someone like Charles Gordon (who was an outstanding college return man) a chance to win the job? Or will they stick with the one real proven commodity they have and let Wade keep the job? To be honest, I think that with Johnson's speed, I hope he can handle the role. It would be nice to have explosive young returners on both the kick and punt return units.
What do you folks think about out special teams? Go ahead and discuss it right here, and we'll be back either later today or tomorrow morning. Continue enjoying your Saturday, everybody!