Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.

Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.

Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Top three areas of comfort for Vikings

Posted by: Mark Craig under Vikings, NFC, Brad Childress, Adrian Peterson, Brad Childress, Chris Kluwe, Ryan Longwell, Visanthe Shiancoe Updated: August 23, 2011 - 10:12 AM

Well, we've all pretty much kicked to death the areas the Vikings should be concerned about. So we'll shift out of doom 'n gloom mode long enough to take a look at three areas in which the Vikings can exhale, knowing what they got is among the best in the league. Here goes:

1, Loeffler to Kluwe to Longwell.

Not quite as well known as Tinker to Evers to Chance, but long snapper Cullen Loeffler to holder Chris Kluwe to kicker Ryan Longwell has to be the most rock-solid place-kicking trio in the league. And that's gold for any team, let alone one that's breaking in a new offense without the benefit of a typical offseason.

Former coach Brad Childress still gets beat up pretty good in these parts, but let's tip the cap to him in this case. One of the first decisions he made as head coach in 2006 was to put an end to the place-kicker nonsense that went on for way too long before he arrived. Longwell was one of the first free agents Childress signed.

Six seasons later, Loeffler, Kluwe and Longwell have been together for every step and snap of the way.

"That's unheard of in the NFL today," Longwell said during training camp.

It's also one of the main reasons Longwell re-signed with the Vikings before training camp started.

"Not only have the three of us been together for six years, but those two guys are also the absolute best at what they do," Longwell said.

Here's a stat for you: Longwell has swung his leg 132 times on place-kicks during the regular season the past two years. He's missed only five times (three of 46 field goal attempts and two of 86 PATs).

2, Running back.

They have the same trio -- Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker -- coming back this season, yet it already looks like an even better backfield. Peterson is a once-in-a-generation back that's still in his prime and getting better. If he can learn to catch the ball better, he'll take himself to an even higher level. And considering how he corrected his fumbling issue last season, I'd expect him to make himself a better pass catcher.

Gerhart, to me, looks a better so far in his second season. He's running with more balance, which gives him more power. He's not getting blasted off his feet as much as he was at this point last season. 

Meanwhile, Booker is a very nice change-of-pace guy and an astute acquisition from the UFL last season. And rookie Caleb King, who will sign today after he takes his physical, is an interesting prospect who could end up on the practice squad. The 5-10, 220-pound King went undrafted in Monday's supplemental draft before agreeing to terms with the Vikings. He was declared academically ineligible and had to sit out last season at the University of Georgia. 

UPDATE: The Vikings have announced the signing of King. Undrafted free agent Rodney Huntley was released to make room for King on the 90-man roster.

3, Tight end.

Those who were puzzled on draft day by the second-round selection of Kyle Rudolph are probably a little less puzzled after watching the big fella in this particular passing game. He's 6-6, 258 pounds and has soft hands and ball skills that allow him to catch balls that aren't perfectly thrown. In this offense, Rudolph will make an immediate impact in multiple tight end formations.

Then there's Visanthe Shiancoe. He's one of the more underrated tight ends in the league, and he's excited to be in Bill Musgrave's offense.

"It's a very tight end friendly offense," said Shiancoe, who had 11 touchdown catches two years ago.

From a blocking tight end standpoint, 34-year-old Jim Kleinsasser has never been more valuable than he is right now. He'll help left tackle Charlie Johnson with the pass rush, and can still surprise teams in the passing game.

That's three starting-quality tight ends. Meanwhile, veteran Jeff Dugan is one of the hidden values on the team. He's probably the hardest working guy on the roster. He plays on all the special teams and can line up at fullback as well as tight end.

And one of the rookie free agents to turn heads this summer is tight end Allen Reisner, a big kid from Iowa who has caught just about everything thrown his way.


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