Pelissero: All competition aside, Ryan Longwell's job isn't in jeopardy
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MANKATO, Minn. -- It might seem an easy guarantee, but allow me to get this on the record anyway.
No matter what happens the next three weeks, the Minnesota Vikings will not replace Ryan Longwell.
No way. No how.
Not. A. Chance.
Just to consider it would take a meltdown of epic, embarrasing proportions -- the type Longwell's 13-year career has never seen.
And that's why all the talk about approaching the kicking situation with no preconceived notions -- a stance special-teams coordinator Brian Murphy repeated on Wednesday -- comes across as slightly odd.
Every coach talks about competition, sure. But let's be realistic.
Teams don't cut kickers who make 93.3 percent of their field-goal attempts, as Longwell did last season.
Teams don't cut kickers who just received $500,000 roster bonuses, as Longwell did on March 7.
And teams expecting to contend definitely don't cut steady veterans in favor of guys with zero NFL field-goal attempts.
No disrespect to Rhys Lloyd, who is a good bet to make this roster as a kickoff specialist, but he'd be a huge gamble on place-kicks -- regardless of how he performs in four exhibition games.
"I learned long ago in this profession that you take it a day at a time," Longwell said. "I've seen a lot of strange things happen. So, you never take it for granted.
"Certainly, I feel like I'm very efficient and good at what I do -- among the best in the league at that."
The plan is to split the reps evenly throughout the preseason. Longwell will handle everything -- field goals, extra points and kickoffs -- in the first half on Saturday at St. Louis. Lloyd will take the second half, and they'll flip-flop the following week at San Francisco.
"I think this is the time when you find out who has got what in their bag," Murphy said. "That's not a reflection on anybody -- that's just this time of the year. You want to see where everyone is at. You want to see everyone at their best. We'll figure it out from there."
The only thing to figure out, though, is whether Lloyd's strong leg makes him valuable enough as a neutralizer to go a man short at another position and keep a second kicker.
If Lloyd hits all his kicks in the preseason and Longwell misses a couple, so what?
This isn't Morten Andersen circa 2004. No one's wondering if Longwell will come up short from 45 yards.
"As far as what happens when they cut the roster, I have no idea," Longwell said. "That's Coach (Brad) Childress' call. I've really been happy with how the ball is coming off my foot, field goals and kickoffs, and we're in a pretty good rhythm."
So, let's cut to what this competition is really about -- figuring out if Lloyd is an option for 2011.
Longwell turns 36 on Monday, his contract expires after the season and the Vikings clearly have preoccupations about continuing to use him on kickoffs. If they didn't, they wouldn't have brought in Lloyd in the first place.
Longwell did endure his share of bumps early in camp, missing his first three attempts from 50-plus yards in 11-on-11 periods. To his credit, Lloyd has been remarkably steady and seems to have taken huge strides in accuracy since his days with the Gophers.
"We are right on track with where we need to be," Murphy said of Lloyd. "Live games will really tell the story."
But unlike other positions, where players Longwell's age perpetually are a bad game or two from getting replaced, kickers can hang around forever because reliable ones are so hard to find.
Lloyd, 28, hasn't kicked a field goal in a game that mattered since 2004.
Longwell has made at least 83.3 percent of his attempts in four seasons with the Vikings.
If the Vikings go to overtime again Sept. 9 at New Orleans, who do you want standing over Chris Kluwe's shoulder -- Longwell or Lloyd?
The answer seems too obvious for it to end up otherwise.