Punter Could Solve Issues

The Vikings got a strong-legged punter in the sixth round of the draft, and it may end their search for a long-term punter and kickoff man.

When the Vikings acquired an extra pick in the Todd Bouman trade, it opened up a spot for a kicking specialist. A year ago, the Vikings had hoped to solve the dilemma of having four roster spots for kicking specialists -- field goal kicker, kickoff man, punter and long snappper -- by signing Doug Brien. That experiment failed. Sixth-round draft pick Eddie Johnson could be the "second solution."

Asked if, in a best-case scenario, Johnson could be the Vikings punter, kickoff man and holder for field goals, special teams coach Rusty Tillman told VU, "Definitely. He has those abilities and could take on all three (roles)."

For his part, Johnson comes to the Vikings with some impressive credentials. Idaho State has become a kicker's paradise, leading all Division I-AA school in total net punting average each of the last three years -- two of those with Johnson as the punter.

"It's a big title for us," Johnson told VU. "I averaged almost the same as I did my junior year -- 46.2 (yards) this year to 46.3 last year."

Some believe the altitude that Johnson played in (about 4,500 feet above sea level) contributed to his lofty average, but Johnson thought playing indoors was more of factor.

"It was the dome that was really nice because punting is all in the drop, so when you have no wind dealing with the drop it makes it that much better. I didn't really notice the altitude here as I did when we played (in Colorado or New Mexico)."

Neither did Tillman, who believes the altitude issue is overblown.

"When I went to see him, he was kicking in Long Beach (Calif.) -- which is at sea level," Tillman told VU. "He was still hanging punts five seconds."

Tillman cautioned that the Vikings have several kicking options but is concerned about having young kickers -- who typically experience growing pains. But, if things work out as the pre-draft plan was, the Vikings could have found a player who could potentially solve three current vacancies -- punter, kickoff man and holder.

Let Phase Two of the Vikings "post-Berger" kicking era begin.

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