Saturday, September 5, 2015

cullen loeffler

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Kicking in the NFL is a lot like putting in golf. The slightest hitch, increase in speed, or head movement can throw off a kick or putt. Sometimes, it’s as simple as getting inside your own head. For golfers, the “yips” can devastate what was once a solid short game. And for Blair Walsh, the “yips” are playing a nasty game on the Vikings’ star kicker, who is struggling mightily through three preseason games.

When the Vikings extended Walsh’s contract in July —  a four-year deal worth up to $14 million, with $5.25 million in guarantees — it appeared to be a vote of confidence from Rick Spielman and the front office. Walsh had, in only his rookie season, earned a trip to the 2012 Pro Bowl after connecting on 92.1 percent of his field goals. More impressive was the fact that Walsh attempted 10 field goals of 50 or more yards, and connected on all of them that year.

He showed off the impressive leg that had made him a sixth-round pick out of Georgia, and converted more field goals than any other kicker in 2012. “After I saw the combine workout and then I went down to Georgia (where Walsh went to college) to work him out, I knew he had the leg strength to do that kind of damage as a field-goal kicker,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said before the 2012 NFL Draft, per the Pioneer Press.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Cullen Loeffler has played 171 snaps at long snapper for the Vikings, the most in franchise history and a testament to his staying power in Minnesota. Today, the organization says goodbye to their most-tenured player, releasing Loeffler after 12 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

“These types of decisions are the hardest part of our jobs,” said GM Rick Spielman in a statement released on the team’s official website. “Cullen was outstanding in the community and on the field for the Vikings. He handled his business with class and his impact in the locker room and on the franchise were second to none. We wish him the best in the future.”

Loeffler, who joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2004, signed a one-year, $1.05 million contract extension with an $80,000 signing bonus this offseason. The slight pay cut from his 2014 salary indicated the front office was prepared to release Loeffler if expectations weren’t met or bring in competition to raise his level of play.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

When the Vikings re-signed 34 year old long snapper Cullen Loeffler to a one year deal this offseason, and then signed free agent long snapper Kevin McDermott to a two year contract, it was fairly easy to draw some conclusions implying that the Vikings are searching for Loeffler’s replacement.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer essentially confirmed that Loeffler will have to win a competition if he wants to spend a 12th consecutive season on the Vikings roster. Loeffler and McDermott will essentially face off in one of the least sexy, but somewhat important, training camp battles of 2015.

“I think he wore down a little bit as the season wore on last year and I think he came back strong,” Priefer said of Loeffler to the Star-Tribune. “You know, Cullen is a great guy and he’s very competitive and he’s very passionate about what he does and he’s got a great work ethic.”

Priefer also spoke highly of McDermott, however, and revealed a plan to split snaps equally between his two long snapper options well into the preseason action.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Ryan Boser did a great job outlining the draft tendencies of Rick Spielman this week, but it is my opinion that he overlooked one more: Spielman loves to pair college teammates together on his roster. That trend continued today, albeit not through a draft choice, when the Vikings signed long snapper Kevin McDermott.

McDermott, 25 years old, was the college teammate of current Vikings punter Jeff Locke at UCLA. The Vikings, of course, drafted Locke in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft and has been mostly disappointing thus far.

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