'Pick on the punter week' continues in Minnesota
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A pretty rare occurrence took place Wednesday at the Minnesota Vikings' team headquarters.
(And, no, I'm not talking about the bald eagle that flew low over the field during the Vikings' afternoon practice. That really did happen, though. Cool stuff.)
What I was referring to was a weighty discussion between the head coach and the punter, two components of a football team that generally go their separate ways. Nevertheless, coach Brad Childress met with punter Chris Kluwe two days after an angry exchange of words on the sideline during the Vikings' 30-27 victory at New Orleans. And after practice, the Vikings very visibly brought four free agent punters onto the field for workouts.
Childress was livid that Kluwe failed to kick a pair of punts out of bounds during the game, later telling reporters that he would "find somebody" that would do it if Kluwe couldn't. (New Orleans' Reggie Bush returned one of the punts 29 yards and the other 64 yards for a touchdown.)
Some Vikings players weren't thrilled to see one of their teammates thrown under the bus after such a wild victory. Kluwe chose his words carefully Wednesday but made clear that kicking the ball out of bounds isn't as easy as it sounds:
"I think a lot of people don't realize that when you're trying to kick it out of bounds, you're trying to kick a football to a very specific point 55 yards away. You've got quarterbacks that have trouble throwing the ball 55 yards away, but to kick it there, it takes a little bit of luck to get it where you want it to go. It's something I've been working on and hopefully I can get better in the future."
Of his conversation with Childress, Kluwe said: "He was just saying, 'We need you to kick it out of bounds.' And I was trying to let him know that sometimes it doesn't go out of bounds."
The Vikings wanted to keep the ball out of Bush's hands after he returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Kluwe called the process a "pretty delicate balancing act" because the kick is still supposed to go at least 40 yards. Punters typically address direction by changing the drop of the ball, but every inch of change can correspond to 10 or more yards of deviation.
"You want to get some yardage out of it," Kluwe said. "But if you try to get too much, it's not going to go out. If you try to get too little, then all of a sudden you kick a 20-yard punt three rows deep [into the stands]. And you get yelled at for that."
The Vikings signed Kluwe to a six-year contract extension last season and his job wouldn't seem to be in immediate jeopardy. He ranks seventh in the NFL in both gross average (47.1) and punts downed inside the 20-yard line (9), but Wednesday's workouts suggest Childress isn't backing down.
"It's a heated game," Kluwe said. "It's football. It's a game of emotion. I'm pretty confident in what I can do. I think I've shown that I can hit the ball fairly well. If he feels like he needs someone else to come in, he's the head coach. That's his job."