[size=18px]Connoisseur of kicking
Kluwe learns finer points of holding from Longwell[/size]


By Shane Frederick
The Free Press

MANKATO —

After nine seasons in the NFL, Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell is quite particular about how he wants the ball just before he boots it toward the uprights.

A connoisseur of wine can distinguish the good from the bad before even taking a taste, simply by recognizing color and smell, and Longwell can do the same before a kick, recognizing the spot, tilt and lean of the ball.

“An inch either way, and he might hook it,” Vikings punter and first-string holder Chris Kluwe said. “I’m just trying to learn the minute, little things that spell the difference between making a 50-yard field goal and missing it two feet to the right.”

Kluwe had limited experience holding before training camp, doing the job for one season at UCLA for a left-footed kicker. Longwell kicks with his right.

“My holding experience in college is worth nothing,” Kluwe said with a laugh.

Longwell, who spent his entire career with the Green Bay Packers before signing with the Vikings in March, ranks eighth in NFL history with a career field-goal success rate of 81.6 percent.

However, he’s coming off his worst season since 2001, hitting 74.1 percent of his field goals and missing his first extra point in four years.

Although he did make four field goals of 50 yards or more, Longwell attributed some of the drop in his success rate to the a carousel of holders caused by roster changes and injuries.

“Last year was a really unique thing. ...” Longwell said. “But I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some great holders in my career.”

Longwell, Kluwe and long snapper Cullen Loeffler often work separately from the rest of the team, and getting their timing down together has been a priority.

Consistency is key, they said.

“We really spent the first week just getting it on the spot,” Longwell said. “There’s been a lot of progress there, and we’re starting to see the ball fly the way we want to.”

Longwell said there have been little tests along the way: adding pads, adding a line, adding a live defense.

The next test will be Monday night when the Vikings play their first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.

“I think it’s like a center and a quarterback,” special teams coach Paul Ferraro said. “They have to be on the same page. Ryan has a specific spot he wants the ball and a specific lean on the ball, both forward and vertically and horizontally. That’s Chris’ job: to get it down and put it in that spot, and he’s done a good job with that.”