Updated: April 25th, 2013 10:14am
Vikings by position: Mike Priefer quietly hit road to work out punters

Vikings by position: Mike Priefer quietly hit road to work out punters

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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Editor's note: Each day until the NFL Draft begins on Thursday night, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.

Day 9

Specialists.

On the roster (4)

T.J. Conley, Chris Kluwe, Cullen Loeffler, Blair Walsh.

Breakdown

Walsh (5-10, 192) was among the NFL's most accurate place-kickers as a rookie, has the leg strength to tilt the field on kickoffs and figures to be in for the long haul. The status of his fellow specialists is less certain. Kluwe (6-4, 215) posted a career-best net average of 39.7 yards on 72 punts last season despite dealing with torn cartilage in his left (non-punting) knee that required offseason cleanup. He also had an excellent season as a holder. But he's 31 years old, is due $1.45 million in salary and bonuses on the last year of his contract and has irritated some within the organization by taking on an increasingly high profile off the field. The Vikings signed Conley (6-3, 220), who punted for the New York Jets in 2011, to a two-year minimum deal with no bonuses as competition and could add more through the draft. Loeffler (6-5, 241) has two years left on his contract, with $925,000 in salary and bonuses due this season. He was less consistent than usual in 2012, though, and isn't getting any younger at age 32. Marcus Sherels has been the punt returner the past two seasons and also is the most experienced kick returner on the roster following Percy Harvin's departure. Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson have worked on kick returns, too, and there's a least a chance Joe Webb could get a look there in camp.

Draft outlook

Given Walsh's overwhelming success replacing veteran Ryan Longwell, it's worth wondering whether Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is tempted to try a similar move and replace Kluwe. All indications are he's at least considering it, since Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer quietly conducted private workouts with Arizona State's Josh Hubner and LSU's Brad Wing and is believed to have worked out UCLA's Jeff Locke, too. In part because of Wing's off-field issues, it could be down to Hubner or Locke for first punter off the board. Drafting a return man in the middle rounds to compete with Sherels seems like a possibility. So is signing another long snapper to push Loeffler, though it seems unlikely they'd take more than three specialists to camp.

Last 10 drafts

• 2012: Walsh (sixth round, 175th overall).
• 2011: None.
• 2010: None.
• 2009: None.
• 2008: None.
• 2007: None.
• 2006: None.
• 2005: None.
• 2004: None.
• 2003: Eddie Johnson (sixth, 180th).

Linked in

The Vikings reportedly had Appalachian State punter Sam Martin in for their Top 30 visit. They conducted most of the workouts on campus, as Priefer did last year with Walsh at Georgia.

High fives

Mel Kiper, ESPN: Place-kickers -- 1. Dustin Hopkins, Florida State; 2. Caleb Sturgis, Florida; 3. Anthony Cantele, Kansas State; 4. Brett Maher, Nebraska; 5. Brett Baer, Louisiana-Lafayette. Punters -- 1. Jeff Locke, UCLA; 2. Brad Wing, LSU; 3. Josh Hubner, Arizona State; 4. Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech; 5. Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State.

Mike Mayock, NFL Network: No rankings.

Up next

The NFL Draft begins at 7 p.m. Thursday.

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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