We'll have much more on this in the Thursday paper (or later Wednesday night on the website) but reporters got a chance today to talk to kicker Ryan Longwell about the interesting situation in which he finds himself.
For the first time in his 14 NFL seasons, Longwell likely won't handle kickoff duties. That job is almost certain to go to former Gopher Rhys Lloyd. Longwell, entering the final season of his five-year contract, was very diplomatic when addressing this subject but it's clear he is less than thrilled.
“It’s odd," Longwell said. "As I’ve told all of you guys it wasn’t like I asked to not do it and it’s not like I prefer not doing it. It's definitely something that I’ve never had to deal with before. We kicked off yesterday and I was with the [second] team. It’s just something that you’ve got to kind of take it a day at a time and we have a long ways between now and the final roster and we have a long ways between now and the 45-[man] active roster. So you just kind of let it play out and see how it goes.”
Longwell said he likes to kickoff in outdoor games in part because it helps him get a better feel for the wind patterns and what the ball might do on a field-goal attempt. He pointed to a 41-yard fourth-quarter field goal he made in late December in the Vikings' 36-30 overtime loss at Chicago. Longwell's field goal pulled the Viking within 23-16.
“[That] was a kick that the wind was blowing hard off the left all game but kicking that direction kicking off the ball just wasn’t falling right," Longwell said. "It just wasn’t going with what the wind felt like. So when we went out there I aimed accordingly to how the ball flew on kickoffs and made it. It’s things like that I think with games in Washington and New England and Philly, where we play this year, it’s a tool that I’ve always used so obviously we’ll have to cross that road when we get there.”
There is little doubt the Vikings fell in love with the idea of a kickoff specialist after seeing how far Dallas' David Buehler and New Orleans' Thomas Morstead boomed the ball in the playoffs. Morstread had three touchbacks against the Vikings in the NFC title game, meaning that Minnesota return ace Percy Harvin, only got to return two kicks. Buehler did not allow the Vikings to return either of his kickoffs.
"I think there's certainly a plus to that but you need to be able to pound it deep every time," Longwell said. "Like Bueller, the guy's just got a freaky strong leg. But if you look at the teams that [went with kickoff specialists], they struggled place-kicking-wise. All year Dallas did. Come playoff time, they beat us in touchbacks, but they didn't beat us in the game because the kid [Shaun Suisham] missed a bunch of field goals. [He missed two of three attempts against the Vikings.]
"So I think you have to weigh the pros and cons of everything, offense and defense and special teams. Certainly, I've never seen a touchback win a game at the end. ... But you can take out great returners with that too, so like I said there's both sides to the argument."
Longwell said he has talked to the coaching staff about the reasons why he likes to kickoff. “I’ve told them how I’ve approached kicking field goals in the weather and outdoor stadiums," he said. "They know that and are well aware of how I approach things and so whether that makes a difference or not who knows?"
It's worth noting that Longwell was 19th in the NFL in kickoffs, averaging 63.7 yards per boot. He had five touchbacks on 98 kickoffs. Lloyd was sixth in the NFL with an average of 66.7 yards on kickoffs and had 21 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs.