It looks like the Vikings have a real kicking competition
Bits and pieces of articles and reports have been coming out lately that the Minnesota Vikings look to be having a real competition at the kicker position heating up. The Vikings presently have two kickers assigned to the roster.
The incumbent is Kai Forbath who was signed last year in the middle of the season after Blair Walsh’s erratic start. We all remember the butterflies we’d get in our stomachs every time Blair Walsh would come out to kick, whether it be a field goal attempt or an extra point. Blair had started out so well with the Vikings but seem to get off track in the 2015 season ending up with that wide left kick in the first playoff game under Mike Zimmer. Kai went on to hit 100% of his field goals going 15 for 15 in seven games. He wasn’t as consistent on his extra points however, hitting only 11 of 14. That is a rate of just only 78.6% and the lowest of his career.
The Vikings brought in a challenger shortly after the season. They brought in Marshall Koehn who last kicked for the University of Iowa in 2015. Koehn was brought into compete with Andrew Franks for the Miami Dolphins job in 2016 but lost. He was lauded for his leg strength, and they felt they could work on his accuracy. Marshall did hit a 57 yard field goal is senior year at Iowa. That may be intriguing to the Vikings because Forbath is not known for his distance.
Here are both kickers career stats to compare:
During Wednesday’s charity golf tournament supporting the Minnesota Vikings Children’s Fund, our good friend Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press asked general manager in chief, Rick Spielman about it.
Spielman was asked about competition at kicker between Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn, and he said it's close. Forbath finished the season with the Vikings last year after they released erratic Blair Walsh in November.
"(Koehn) has an extremely strong leg,'' Spielman said. "Right now, it's a heated battle and I think we've charted over 248 field goals as of (Wednesday) and I can tell you it's neck-and-neck. That will be a big training camp battle coming up, but watch out for (Koehn), he's got a chance to be pretty special.''
Sam Ekstrom in the Thursday [June 8] Zone Coverage “Locked on Vikings” podcast reiterated that when the media has been allowed to observe the last few weeks, it has been Koehn who was visibly winning the competition. Sam had mentioned they'd seen about 10 kicks out of the 248 Spielman said were charted.
At this point, I’m curious, how much will Mike Priefer’s coaching style affect who wins this battle? I listened to an outstanding podcast from our friends over at Vikings Territory, “About the Labor”, where BJ Reidell and Drew Mahowald interviewed former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. In it, Kluwe discussed punting and kicking strategies along with the type of coaches that implement them. Most of this was focused around punting, but what I found extremely interesting was how Chris described Mike Priefer's style, and how it could be detrimental to young kickers without a good support system or years of experience. He explained that kicking is very much a mental game with lots of stress, and when you have a coach that will suddenly berate you with a string of expletives, without that veteran presence and depending upon the kickers personality, it can easily spiral into disaster. He explained that this could be a cause of the decline of both Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke. In the case of this competition between Forbath and Koehn, this might be an advantage to Kai because he has been around so long and knows how to deal with it. But it really depends on the personalities and mental states of both kickers and how they would react to it.
I do believe Mike Priefer is an outstanding special-teams coach, especially when it comes to strategy, and assembling the other parts of the 11 man units. I wonder however, if the act of kicking, by either the kicker or the punter, and all the techniques and skills needed to be successful, are in his skill set, or would it be advantageous for the Vikings to look for a kicking specialist coach to add to the staff?
Like many Vikings fans, during the draft, I was with a bunch of friends and we were chatting live and were wondering on day three, with as many pics as Rick Spielman amassed, if one of them was going to be used one of the top kicking prospects in the draft, Zane Gonzalez. Gonzalez was later drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round after the Vikings had passed on him more than once. I am curious if Priefer had anything to do with that decision, or if the team was just happy enough with the competition they had already set up between Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn? I will always wonder on that one. What are your thoughts?