Steve Hutchinson has seen the visiting locker room at Mall of America Field before. But it’s been a long, long time -- from back when he was with Seattle, his first NFL team.
“I was just thinking how weird it is to go back,” Hutchinson said today.
Hutchinson, the Vikings left guard for six seasons, will be back Sunday, this time playing guard for the visiting Tennessee Titans. Hutchinson was with Seattle from 2001 through 2005, then was signed away by the Vikings thanks to a seven-year, $49 million contract. He played six seasons in MInnesota, a tenure than ended with the Vikings letting him go shortly before free agency began last spring.
“I got a call,” he said. “They told me the decision they were going. But it wasn’t completely a blindside to me, knowing the direction the team was going. They were trying to get younger in areas. I kind of saw the writing on the wall. It was a fun run. It was a good six years. But it’s a business, too, and they have to do what they have to do.”
The Vikings revamped the left side of their line, moving Charlie Johnson from tackle to guard and plugging first-round draft pick Matt Kalil in at tackle. Hutchinson signed a three-year, $16 million deal with Tennessee.
Hutchinson said the hardest part about moving was relocating his family. As for continuing his career? That decision was pretty easy. “I had it in my head that, If I had played this last contract out with the Vikings, that would have put me at 12 years,” he said. “And that sounded like a good number to me, a dozen years. I don’t know if I felt comfortable hanging it up after 11. … I don’t know what this contract will take me to. I don’t know if all three years will come into play. But it wasn’t a hard choice to figure out that I wanted to keep playing.”
It appears, though, that Hutchinson has kept tabs on what has happened with the Vikings this season. He said he isn’t surprised by Minnesota’s 3-1 start. “I know the character of the guys in that locker room,” he said, “and the leaders they have on that team.’’
Hutchinson also said he expected quarterback Christian Ponder to blossom in his second NFL season. “I think last year, with the new offensive system and the lockout and no off-season, asking a rookie to come in and grasp every aspect of the game at the quarterback position at the NFL level is hard to do. I knew, once he settled in, he’d be good. They’re doing well, looking good. And I’m sure the fans are happy, and they deserve that.”
Despite reports to the contrary, Titans coach Mike Munchak said he hadn’t completely ruled out quarterback Jake Locker.
Locker dislocated his left (non-throwing) shoulder Sunday. It was the second such injury for Locker, who also did it opening day against New England.
Munchak said he would wait a couple days before officially declaring Locker out. But he also said he wouldn’t put Locker into the game if he hadn’t been able to practice, so it appears all but certain 37-year-old veteran Matt Hasselbeck will play.
Hasselbeck completed 17 of 25 passes for 193 yards, two TDs and two interceptions against Houston last Sunday.
“He takes great control of the huddle,” Munchak said of Hasselbeck. “He has a lot of confidence in himself. He can get the football where it’s supposed to go, and very quickly.”
Room to improve
Last Sunday Chris Kluwe’s 47-yard punt that was downed at the Detroit 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter helped the Vikings seal their win against the Lions. It was the final blow in a game that featured near-perfect special teams play by the Vikings.
But Kluwe said he needs to get more consistent with his punting going forward.
“Not yet,” he said, when asked if he had hit his groove yet this season. “I still had a couple punts in the middle of (Sunday’s) game that I didn’t hit the way I wanted to. And I need to focus on cleaning those up, hitting those better.”
Kluwe is averaging 46 yards per punt with a 40.2-yard net average, both strong numbers. But he sees room for improvement. “It’s just minor errors here or there,” he said. “It’s the difference between dropping it an inch or the right or an inch inside to the left. It’s minor stuff.”
Kluwe, part II
Kluwe, whose active defense of gay rights have made him something of a spokesman in that area recently, said he has received numerous proposals of marriage – via Twitter – since first voicing his opinion on the subject.
“It’s about 70 percent women, 30 percent guys,” said Kluwe, who is married and has two young children.
But that percentage might change.
Kluwe was recently interviewed by Out Magazine, a publication that offers a gay and lesbian perspective on style, entertainment, fashion and politics. As part of the interview he took part in a photo shoot, and his picture will be on the cover of the magazine’s November issue.