Hartman: Kluwe says Vikings still have good shot at playoffs

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 29, 2012 - 8:09 PM

The punter says the team's mix of young and experienced talent never believed this was going to be a rebuilding year.

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Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press

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This is Cris Kluwe's eighth season as a Viking, making him the second-longest tenured punter in team history, behind only Greg Coleman. Kluwe has played on winning teams, including coming a few plays from going to the Super Bowl following the 2009 season and winning two division titles, and there have been disastrous seasons, like last year's 3-13 year.

Then there's this season, in which the Vikings have defeated tremendous teams such as the 49ers but continue to struggle on the road, posting a 1-4 record.

Kluwe, being a punter, has time to watch practice and knows what is going on from the sidelines in games because he is on the bench when both the offense and defense are on the field. So he is in a good position to analyze some of the dynamics of the Vikings squad.

"I'd say it's probably a younger team just because we're kind of getting in younger faces, but at the same time it's a group of guys that want to work hard," Kluwe said. "We all have a desire to win, we all have a desire to succeed. I know a lot of people tried to write us off at the beginning of the season, and that's not how we view the team. We don't view it as a rebuilding team, we view it as a [team that wants] to come out and win games, because that's what the NFL is about."

Asked about why the defense has been great at times but then can appear so lax, as it was in last Sunday's 28-10 loss to the Bears, when quarterback Jay Cutler completed passes at will, Kluwe responded:

"If I had the answers, I'm sure they'd love me to tell them. I think it's just unfortunate that whatever we had planned, it just didn't pan out. I'm sure those guys are working hard to make sure that they're ready for Green Bay."

Asked about how the Vikings could dominate the 49ers, the 49ers dominated the Bears and then the Bears dominated the Vikings, Kluwe said: "That's why it's the NFL. There's a reason the cliché is any given Sunday. Past success is no indication of future success, that's why we have to go out and play every Sunday."

Kluwe also said the Vikings' difficulty with getting victories on the road is one of the challenges in the NFL, and it will remain that way this weekend in Green Bay.

"It's tough, the fans are very loud, they're smart fans, know when to cheer, when not to cheer," he said. "We have to get out early and show them we're not scared and we're going to go in and get a win."

Kluwe said the players on the team have a great relationship. There are no disagreements and no fights. The team isn't losing games because of dissension in the locker room.

"It's a good mix," he said. "We have guys who have been here for awhile and a lot of newer faces, but we're definitely gelling together as a team and I think we've done some good things.

"There's been turnover, I'd say probably half the team is different now [since he joined the club]. A lot of the O-linemen we don't have anymore, there's D-linemen we don't have anymore, there's linebackers we don't have anymore. It's the NFL, things change from year to year and you have to be able to take each year on its own merits."

He says there is confidence in the locker room that the team can still make the playoffs.

"If we can win our games, we always have a chance to make it," he said. "I think we're only one game behind Green Bay and if Seattle and Tampa lose a couple, then we'll be able to get in. We can only control what we do, so we need to go out and win games to get in."

Meyer improved at UK

The Twins need to add veteran pitchers who can win now. But they wound up trading a great center fielder in Denard Span to the Nationals for an unproven minor leaguer who won't be ready to win in the big leagues for a while. But Washington has been successful in the draft, and maybe Alex Meyer will move up in a hurry like a lot of their picks have.

Meyer pitched three years at the University of Kentucky before entering the MLB draft in 2011 and being picked in the first round (23rd overall) by the Nationals. He was drafted in the 20th round out of high school by the Red Sox in 2008, but said he attended Kentucky to improve his overall approach and that it paid off.

"Coming to campus, everyone knew I was going to be a huge project from the beginning," Meyer said after last year's draft. "I knew my stuff was good when I got [to Kentucky], it just needed to be fine-tuned a little bit. When coach [Gary] Henderson brought me in, he just laid out exactly what his plan was for me. We did a good job of accomplishing it."

Meyer's ERA went from 5.73 as a freshman to 7.06 as a sophomore, but then in his junior season he posted a 2.94 ERA with 110 strikeouts in a career-high 101 innings. That final year he led the SEC in strikeouts, complete-game shutouts (two) and complete games (four). In his final three starts he went 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA, beating No. 1 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Florida in the process.

He received a $2 million signing bonus with the Nationals after being drafted.

No doubt Twins General Manager Terry Ryan will be second-guessed for this trade, but only time will tell if the right move was to give up a proven player in Span for a top prospect in Meyer.

Jottings

• Christian Ponder on NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, his counterpart this Sunday: "He's a really good quarterback. He's very athletic and has one of the strongest arms in the league. You watch him and he buys a lot of time in the pocket and gets balls to where they're supposed to be and he has great mobility to buy time and get the ball downfield."

• The Vikings would be fortunate if the two best Packers defenders can't play Sunday, with linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) and cornerback Charles Woodson (collarbone) sidelined.

• Dartmouth center Rob Bathe of Plymouth was selected to the All-Ivy League football team. ... Edina's Graham Woodward, signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Penn State. ... Jose Mendez Vargas from Costa Rica, the ninth-ranked junior golfer in the world for the class of 2013, signed a letter of intent to attend Minnesota.

• Gophers football coach Jerry Kill says he made a great hire when he named Jeff Jones his assistant recruiting coordinator this past summer. Jones played for Kill at Southern Illinois and was an academic adviser at the school since 2007.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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