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Updated: April 28th, 2012 8:48pm
Notebook: Vikings not saying if kicker could displace Ryan Longwell

Notebook: Vikings not saying if kicker could displace Ryan Longwell

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Ryan Longwell has three years remaining on the four-year, $12 million contract he signed with the Minnesota Vikings last July. That deal included $3.5 million in guarantees.

Nonetheless, the veteran kicker is about to get some real competition for his job. The Vikings surprised many Saturday by selecting Georgia kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round.

Asked about this decision, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said Walsh, "was just one of the players on our board that we felt could come in and compete."

Spielman made the decision to take Walsh after the other two kickers the Vikings had on their board -- Randy Bullock of Texas A&M and Greg Zuerlein of Missouri Western -- went just before him.

Longwell, 37, did not have his best season in 2011, hitting on 22 of 28 field-goal attempts. That 78.6 percentage was his lowest since he made 74.1 percent of his attempts (20 of 27) in 2005 during his final season with the Green Bay Packers.

Walsh, though, also had a tough 2011 season. He led the nation with 35 field-goal attempts as a senior but made only 21. Ten of his 14 misses were from 40 yards or beyond.

"I know he had a down year last year from a field-goal percentage, but he was almost 90 percent two years ago," Spielman said. "Watching him at the combine he was the best kickoff guy that we saw there as far as averaging almost a 4.5 hang-time.

"He had a lot of touchbacks and we felt he was the best kickoff guy at the combine. ... What we were looking at is just value in football players regardless of position and we felt he was a good value where we got him."

During his sophomore and junior seasons, Walsh made 40 of 45 field-goal attempts. He hit on 10 of 17 attempts from 50-yards and beyond during his four years.

Given Walsh's leg strength and the fact Longwell's 19 touchbacks ranked near the bottom of the NFL last season, Spielman was asked about the possibility of keeping two kickers and having Walsh just handle kickoffs.

"Right now all we're doing is trying to gather football players," he said.

Selling himself short

After the Vikings selected Rhett Ellison in the fourth round, the tight end from Southern Cal said he did not expect to be drafted and admitted that he broke down and started crying when he was told he was going to Minnesota.

Spielman, however, said Ellison not only was worth a fourth-round pick but wouldn't have been available in the fifth round.

"He's very modest," Spielman said, "I know that he was going to go right around there. For a fact. I just know that. Because I got some calls right afterwards."

Ellison is expected to compete for a roster spot as a tight end and H-back and could serve as a replacement for the retired Jim Kleinsasser. Kleinsasser was an outstanding blocker and hard worker.

"Rhett is a great character guy, extremely bright, can play multiple positions," Spielman said. "We lost (Visanthe Shiancoe) and we lost Kleinsasser, so we're trying to create as much competition at that third tight end spot as possible.

"Visiting with Rhett at the combine, I was there personally at his pro day, he does a lot of things for an offense just because of his versatility and his intelligence. So he can give you some of the same things we saw in Kleinsasser."

Spielman had some fun when asked about the fact Ellison admitted to being so emotional. "I got emotional," Spielman said. "I was like, 'I love you man.' You know what that tells you? It tells me, when we're talking about passion for the game, that kid loves to play football."

Catching on

The Vikings used two of their three fourth-round picks on wide receivers, selecting Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. Both played at Arkansas and their friendship dates to grade school.

"I know they bring some big-play ability and the objective of this draft was to get a lot of young guys that can come in here and compete," Spielman said. "Again, staying with the theme of smart, tough, passionate football players that have ability for our coaches to sit there and develop."

Spielman was especially struck by Wright's approach to the game.

"I just remember sitting there and talking with Jarius and talking to this guy at the combine, you just see it in their eyes when you sit there," he said. "That's why the interview process is so important to us. Because there were some other receivers that you kind of saw fall in the draft. But we were really focused on that passion for the game."

The Vikings ended up using two of their 10 picks on wide receivers. Spielman said one reason he was able to do that -- and not take more wide receivers -- was because the Vikings signed free-agent Jerome Simpson before the draft.

"That was a big sign for us to get Jerome in here," Spielman said. "He's working out already the last couple of days and we're excited about Jerome as well."

Position flexibility

Fifth-round pick Robert Blanton can play both cornerback and safety and Trevor Guyton can play defensive end and tackle. So how do the Vikings project these two long-term when it comes to their positions?

Spielman wasn't about to commit to anything Saturday evening.

Blanton will get work at both safety and corner, according to Spielman, and Guyton will work at the 3-technique and end.

"The more guys that we can bring in here who have versatility to play multiple positions, the more value they have for us," Spielman said.

Another guy with position flexibility is seventh-round linebacker Audie Cole, who played both inside and outside at North Carolina State. Cole's likely early contributions would be on special teams.

Case-by-case situation

Spielman would not get into any details of the legal situation involving running back Caleb King, who was in an Anoka County jail Saturday after being arrested on suspicion of third-degree assault with substantial bodily harm.

However, Spielman did address the bigger picture when asked about these situations.

"We take each situation as it comes in and evaluate it and make decisions of where we feel that player is," Spielman said. " ... We're not the only NFL team that has its situations.

"We try to prevent those because it's very important to what we're trying to build here, and you just have to deal with them when they come and make decisions based off that."

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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