Rhys Lloyd is very familiar with kicking in the Metrodome after playing college football for the Gophers. The Eastview High graduate is returning to the Twin Cities after signing a two-year contract with the Vikings on Monday night to be their kickoff specialist.
"I was obviously disappointed to leave Carolina," he said. "I made some good friends there and the people there are very much like Minnesotans in that they’re very friendly. My wife and I really enjoyed Carolina. But I guess now it’s on to the next chapter. I didn’t want to leave Carolina but Minnesota has opened their door to me and I obviously feel at home here as well so I’m excited."
Lloyd, a former soccer player who was born in England, has always possessed a strong leg and he's made his mark in the NFL as a kickoff specialist.
Lloyd has not attempted a field goal in three NFL seasons with Baltimore and Carolina, but he has 51 touchbacks over the past two years. He had 21 with the Panthers last season, which tied for sixth most in the NFL.
By contrast, Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell had only five touchbacks last season. Also, the Vikings ranked 23rd in the league in opponents average starting field position.
The Vikings saw how valuable a kickoff specialist can be late in the season when teams routinely kicked away or kicked it deep to dynamic returner Percy Harvin.
Lloyd, who is married to professional golfer Tina Miller, talked about returning to the Twin Cities and what his role will be:
Q: What will it be like returning to a place where you went to high school and play in the same stadium where you played college football?
Lloyd: It’s going to be strange. Two years ago I kicked here with the Panthers against Minnesota. I was in the Gophers locker room [the visitors for NFL]. I actually had my old locker on the Gophers and it wasn’t intentional either. It was quite scary. It brought back a lot of memories.
Q: So they randomly hung your equipment in your old locker?
Lloyd: Yes, how weird is that?
Q: What did they tell you about your role? I assume you still aspire to be a field goal kicker too?
Lloyd: I spoke to the coaching staff [Monday] and kind of picked their brains on what they wanted from me. I think their ultimate goal in the future is for me to be the field-goal guy and the kickoff guy. But this year is me purely doing kickoffs. Ryan is doing the field goals, and I'm quite happy with that. We'll take it from there. I guess I’m just waiting and whenever I get the chance – I’m not predicting that I’m going to be the main guy in a year or 10 years down the line – but it’s a prospect that that could very good for me. I’m waiting and I’ll hopefully do a good job.
Q: How much have you grown as a field goal kicker?
Lloyd: Since college I think I’m a completely different guy as far as kicking the ball. In college I made do with what I had as far as ability and I never really worked at it. I got away with just my ability to kick the ball. Obviously when I got into the league I changed everything and made sure that I was doing the right things and it paid off. I think my technique has always been the same. It’s just little things that I changed to be more consistent and my field goals are getting a lot better. That’s the main goal and I’ve been working on that.
Q: The Vikings saw how much a kickoff specialist can change special teams by what teams did to Percy Harvin at the end of last season. How much can you influence special teams?
Lloyd: It really does change the dynamics of what other teams can do. Being in Charlotte the last few years I think I proved that. That’s why guys respected me a little bit more when I was kicking off. Obviously a lot of teams are really starting to look at kickoff guys. A lot of field goal guys are older now and they have the experience and they’re accurate but they don’t quite have the leg. The kickoff guy has become more and more popular.
It makes a huge difference because guys like Percy Harvin or the Devin Hesters of the world they’re special guys back there. If you can limit them with what they do, it changes field position and that’s a huge deal. A lot of people probably think it's not that big of a deal to have a kickoff guy. But I've noticed, and I think a lot of other teams noticed the last few years, that it does make a huge difference. I think the Vikings in talking to me really assessed what their weaknesses were and they've come to me and I'm more than happy to be that guy."
Q: How did you approach Harvin last season? [Harvin returned two kickoffs for 31 yards.]
Lloyd: I think when Minnesota came to Carolina and played us I did a pretty good. I wasn’t necessarily putting them in the end zone. But I did a bunch of different kicks that took him out of the game and made the Vikings sort of commit to those different kicks. But I have the ability and the freedom to then kick it deep again. That’s what we did. It’s a combination of a bunch of things and I think when they saw that I didn’t get tendered [a contract by Carolina] they said there was quite shock for them and as soon as they found out they were on the phone to my agent right away.