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Updated: July 28th, 2010 6:31pm
Training camp preview: Scouting the Vikings' specialists

Training camp preview: Scouting the Vikings' specialists

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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Each weekday until the Minnesota Vikings report to training camp on July 29, 1500ESPN.com's Tom Pelissero breaks down the roster at another position, based on offseason practice observations and conversations with coaches, scouts and personnel people around the NFL. Day 9: Specialists.

On the roster (4)

Locks: P Chris Kluwe, K Ryan Longwell, LS Cullen Loeffler.

Good bet: K Rhys Lloyd.

The situation

Longwell (6-foot, 200 pounds) is coming off a career season in which he made 28 of 30 field-goal attempts (93.3 percent) and wasn't pleased when the Vikings signed Lloyd (5-11, 231) off the street, with designs on handing over kickoff duties to the strong-legged former Gopher. Set to turn 36 next month, Longwell never has been a real touchback threat -- he has 66 in 13 NFL seasons, compared to 51 for Lloyd over the past two seasons with the Carolina Panthers -- and the way last season finished (no touchbacks in eight games, three opponents averaging 30-plus yards per return) surely factored into the decision to bring in someone capable of neutralizing top return men. The $500,000 roster bonus Longwell received in March suggests the Vikings have every intention of keeping him to handle placekicks, though. Lloyd, 28, was non-tendered as a restricted free agent by Carolina and got a $200,000 roster bonus on his two-year deal with the Vikings.

Kluwe (6-4, 215) ranked around the middle of the pack last season in gross (43.9, 15th), net average (37.8, 18th) and punts inside the 20 (24, tied for 16th). He's due only $1.025 million this season and is signed through 2013, when he'll turn 32. Kluwe is also the primary holder on placekicks, with Loeffler (6-5, 241) entering his seventh season as long snapper. WR Percy Harvin emerged as one of the NFL's most dangerous kick returners as a rookie, ranking fourth among qualifying players in average (27.5) and taking back two for touchdowns. WR-turned-RB Darius Reynaud ranked ninth in punt-return average (10.3) but isn't a lock for the job or even the roster. WR Jaymar Johnson and others will get a look in camp. LB Heath Farwell was the NFC's Pro Bowl special teamer last season, recovering two fumbles and tying LB Kenny Onatolu for the team lead with 24 special-teams tackles.

Best battle

Though their roles seem relatively defined for this season, Longwell and Lloyd both are expected to get opportunities on placekicks and kickoffs in camp and perhaps the preseason, too. If nothing else, Lloyd -- who never has attempted a field goal in a regular-season NFL game -- can plant a seed for the future with a strong performance in his field-goal opportunities. Longwell's five-year contract, which is set to pay him $1.5 million in base salary, expires after the season.

Sleeper watch

There's really no telling what the Vikings will get from the undrafted rookie WR Ray Small (5-11, 180), who missed nearly the entire offseason program because of Ohio State's academic schedule. Small's value as an NFL receiver probably is limited, but he's an intriguing prospect for special teams who averaged 10.1 yards on punt returns and 21 yards on kick returns in college.

One NFL scout's take on ... Percy Harvin

"You have to be aware of Percy Harvin not just in the pass game, but also in situational rush attacks, reverses, the short screens, the bubble screens where -- when you throw him the ball on those short bubble screens, it's almost like a perimeter rush as much as it is a pass. His ability to play in space and do things with the ball in space creates an explosive element."

Outlook

Keeping Lloyd as kickoff specialist would mean one fewer non-specialist on both the 53-man roster and the 45 active spots on game day. Longwell also has spoken to the challenges presented by not having more opportunities to judge wind, although the makeup of the Vikings' schedule -- they play only one outdoor game (Dec. 26 at Philadelphia) over the season's final five weeks -- probably minimizes the impact this season. Longwell was one of the NFL's most accurate place-kickers last season, Lloyd has his niche, Kluwe is adequate, Loeffler is dependable and Harvin is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. It's a group with which a contending team can more than work.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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