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 mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Posts about Ryan Longwell

Vikings take punter in fifth round

Posted by: Kent Youngblood Updated: April 27, 2013 - 2:22 PM

 

With their fifth-round pick -- the 155th overall -- the Vikings took UCLA punter Jeff Locke in a move that seems eerily reminiscent of last year's decision to draft kicker Blair Walsh.

That decision to take Walsh ultimately meant the end of veteran Ryan Longwell's time with the team. Will the decision to take the left-footed Locke mean Chris Kluwe's time with the Vikings is over?

Locke compiled a career 44.23 punting average in his career at UCLA. As a senior he was named first-team all-Pac-12 and was an honorable mention all-America by SI.com while being a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. He led conference punters with 34 punts inside the 20-yard line (21 of which were downed at or inside the 10) and added 68 touchbacks on 86 kickoffs.

Kluwe is coming off a season in which his 39.7-yard net average was the best in his eight-year career with the team. Kluwe, of course, is also well-known for his very public stances on the issues of the day. Kluwe is due to be paid $1.45 million this upcoming season. 

Jennings signs on as Vikings' No. 1 receiver

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 15, 2013 - 6:48 PM

Every three or four years, a former Packers star decides to come west and bail the Vikings out of a gigantic jam.

Ryan Longwell filled a gaping hole at kicker in 2006 and went on to post six successful seasons. Brett Favre stepped in for a QB-starved outfit in 2009 and led it to within seconds of a Super Bowl. And now former Packers receiver Greg Jennings has signed on with a Vikings team that's bone dry at receiver and hasn't had a legitimate No. 1 wideout since Sidney Rice was catching passes from Favre in 2009. Jennings' deal is for five years, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Jennings doesn't fit Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman's normal parameters for a free agent. Jennings will turn 30 in September and has missed 11 games because of knee and core muscle injuries over the past two seasons.

But here's what Jennings is: Productive. Although he caught only 36 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, he did post 1,100-yard seasons from 2008 to 2010.

Jennings will be introduced during a press conference at Winter Park at 7:15 p.m. We'll have more later this evening.

Vikings 2013 look ahead: Specialists

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: January 25, 2013 - 8:19 AM
The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the specialists.
 
SPECIALISTS
 
Get excited: The Vikings have the best place-kicker in football and he just turned 23 three weeks ago. Now, kicking is a crazy, unpredictable facet of football (see: D. Akers 2011 vs. D. Akers 2012), but there’s nothing to suggest that Blair Walsh won’t be confidently kicking footballs as a Viking for the next 10-15 years.
Last year’s sixth-round draft pick made the Pro Bowl and, more impressively, was a runaway winner in All-Pro voting as he shattered numerous rookie, team and league kicking records during a season that was better than anyone, including Walsh, imagined. The kid made 35 of 38 regular-season field goals, set the NFL record for most 50-yard field goals (going 10 for 10) and bombed a team-record 53 kickoff touchbacks.
Walsh was clutch from the second he kicked the game-tying 55-yarder as the fourth quarter expired against Jacksonville in Week 1. Fittingly, he finished the regular season by kicking a last-second 29-yarder to beat the Packers and clinch a playoff berth. Walsh also made his only post-season attempt a week later at Green Bay, so his final total was 36 of 39, or 92.3 percent. When a leg that big can also make 92.3 percent, well, that’s something special.
Vikings fans also should be excited to have Mike Priefer as special teams coach. Respect for his teaching skills, schemes and presence is gaining momentum around the league. That’s why the Bears interviewed him for their head coaching job.
One of the reasons the Vikings took a chance on Walsh was their faith in Priefer. It was Priefer who made the difficult call and suggested it was time to replace Ryan Longwell, a popular and accurate long-time veteran kicker. And it was Priefer who helped Walsh go from a 60-percent kicker as a senior at Georgia to the NFL’s best place-kicker just a year later.
 
Keep an eye on: No one outside of Winter Park saw Ryan Longwell being replaced a year ago at this time. No one outside of Winter Park even thought Longwell needed to be replaced at this time a year ago. So it’s best to keep your eyes open as 31-year-old punter Chris Kluwe enters his ninth season.
That’s not a suggestion that Kluwe needs to be replaced. In fact, the feeling here is the complete opposite.
Although some fans, reporters and even Priefer grew exhausted by Kluwe’s over-exposed persona, the dude can still punt better than anyone else has in team history. He had a few uncharacteristic hiccups and shanks, but, remember, he also had a bit of a bum left knee, which required post-season surgery to repair the meniscus.
Something else critics should remember: His net average (39.7) was a career high. His gross (45.0) was third highest in his career. And not to be overlooked is the roles that he and long snapper Cullen Loeffler played in Walsh’s success.
Kluwe’s outspoken, Twitter-crazed nature suggests there always will be a cause for which he will feel the need to draw attention. But that’s manageable. There are enough hours in the day to do all the necessary things that go into being a good punter and still have about 20 hours left to eat, sleep, play video games and have a life while fighting for gay marriage rights, Ray Guy’s Hall of Fame credentials or who knows what else is around the next corner.
 
Reason for worry: The kick and punt return positions aren’t necessarily a worry. In fact, Marcus Sherels provides the opposite of worry. He’s a comfortable fallback plan at both spots. Having him is having a sense of relief that the ball isn’t going to pop loose near the goal line on a kickoff or hit the ground and roll 25 more yards on a punt.
However, the cost of that comfort is a low percentage of big plays in the return game. They aren’t impossible, of course. The guy did return a punt 77 yards for a touchdown at Detroit. But he’s never going to be a threat like Percy Harvin.
Harvin is the one to worry about here. He’s one of the best kick returners in the league. It would be a shame to deny the team the benefits of that incredible talent, but it’s something the coaches and front office will no doubt worry more about now that they’ve seen Harvin’s health last only nine games.
Harvin wasn’t injured on a kickoff return. But the wear and tear of extra touches – particularly ones that come on the most violent play in football – can’t be dismissed when the guy taking the beating is the second-best player on the team.
Replacing Harvin on kickoffs would be much easier if the Vikings found an electric game-breaker to replace him. Even better would be a replacement who also excelled at punt returns.
What are the chances of that happening when there are so many other needs with higher priority status? Not great. After all, the Vikings have a young, comfortable Plan B.

Odds and ends: Blair Walsh taking his long snapper to Hawaii for Pro Bowl

Posted by: Updated: January 7, 2013 - 4:54 PM

After a season in which, including playoffs, he made 36 of 39 field goal attempts and hit all 10 of his tries from 50 yards or beyond, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh has only one thing left to do: visit Hawaii later this month for the Pro Bowl.

Walsh expressed excitement about the trip Monday and also revealed his intentions of bringing long snapper Cullen Loeffler to Oahu as his guest.

“He deserves it. That was a mutually founded thing,” Walsh said.

Walsh and Loeffler are still holding out hope that the Vikings long snapper will get a late invite by the NFC coaching staff to play in the game. But even if he doesn’t, Loeffler will join Walsh on the trip.

Last year, San Francisco’s Brian Jennings was the NFC’s invited long snapper, an easy choice given that 49ers kicker David Akers and punter Andy Lee played in the game.

Loeffler had previously held out hope of getting a special invite to Hawaii in years past when punter Chris Kluwe and former kicker Ryan Longwell were Pro Bowl alternates.

Said Loeffler: “The deal was, ‘Hey look, if we make it we’re taking you with us regardless.’ And so, really Kluwe informed [Blair], ‘Hey, this is how it works.’”

Futures contracts signed

All eight practice squad players were signed to futures contracts Monday, giving the Vikings exclusive rights to them when the 2013 league year begins in March. Those players are defensive tackle Chase Baker, running back Joe Banyard, tight end LaMark Brown, cornerback Bobby Felder, tight end Chase Ford, guard Tyler Holmes, tackle Kevin Murphy and receiver Chris Summers.

The draft is coming! The draft is coming!

Only 105 days remain until the Vikings go on the clock for the first time during the 2013 NFL Draft. As a result of Saturday’s playoff loss in Green Bay, the Vikings will own the No. 23 pick in the first round.

Blair Walsh wins his third NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: January 2, 2013 - 12:54 PM
Blair Walsh has now achieved something that neither Adrian Peterson, nor Randy Moss achieved during their rookie seasons with the Vikings:
Win a conference player of the week award three times.
Walsh's second last-second, game-winning field goal of the season -- a 29-yarder to clinch a playoff berth against the Packers on Sunday -- earned him his third NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award this season. Peterson and Moss won the conference offensive player of the week award twice during their rookies seasons.
Walsh also is the first rookie to win this award three times since Bears return man Devin Hester did it in 2006.
Here's the Vikings' release on Walsh's award: 
 
BLAIR WALSH WINS NFC SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK HONORS
 
Eden Prairie, MN(January 2, 2013)Vikings rookie K Blair Walsh has been named the NFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week for his Week 17 performance against the Green Bay Packers. Walsh sent the Vikings into the playoffs with a 29-yard FG as time expired. He also connected on FGs of 54 and 37 yards in the 37-34 win. This was Walsh’s second game-winning kick of the 2012 season (Week 1 vs. Jacksonville).
 
Walsh has won this award three times and becomes the first rookie since Devin Hester earned the honor three times in 2006. Until now, no Vikings rookie has ever won the Player of the Week Award three times in one season (A. Peterson x2 – ‘07, R. Moss x2 – ‘98). The Pro Bowl kicker was honored after his Week 1 performance against Jacksonville and his Week 15 showing in St. Louis.
 
The Georgia product was 10-10 on FGs of 50+ yards this season, a NFL record. He led the NFL in FGs with 35 and was 4th in scoring with 141 points. His 92.1 FG percentage is the best in NFL history by a rookie kicker. Walsh was 35-38 on the season and was 3rd in the NFL with 53 touchbacks.
 
Other Vikings kickers to win the award are: Fuad Reveiz (2x), Gary Anderson (4x), Eddie Murray and Ryan Longwell (2x). 

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