After 11 years, Loeffler fighting for spot

Cullen Loeffler is receiving the most serious competition he has in a long time.

In a league where quarterbacks rule and everything else still generates hype, long snappers are the forgotten breed among fans, even when it comes to talk of specialists.

Even so, long snappers provide the start of the play that can make or break a kicker or punter, or as the Minnesota Vikings found out last year, be the difference between a win and a loss.

Veteran Cullen Loeffler has been a staple of the Vikings longer than any other player. He joined the team in 2004 and is the only holdover from quarterback Shaun Hill’s first go-round in Minnesota.

Loeffler is the only player left whose career spans the Mike Tice to Brad Childress to Leslie Frazier to Mike Zimmer era of head coaches. But Loeffler has real competition for his job for the first time since he won the job from Brody Liddiard following the 2003 season. Now Loeffler is the veteran getting younger competition, from Kevin McDermott.

“One of the challenges I gave to Cullen when he left back in January was that I think you need to improve and here’s the things I think you need to improve on, and he’s taken that and he’s done a really nice job of improving all spring long,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “And Kevin we wouldn’t have signed if we didn’t think he would be a great competition for Cullen and he’s done a nice job this spring, as well.”

So far, Loeffler still appears to be the leader. At minicamp, Loeffler was taking the first snaps on punts and field goals with McDermott getting a second set of them.

Loeffler was the more consistently accurate of the two, at least in the final day of minicamp, but he wasn’t as good as usual last year and Priefer wanted to create competition and give Loeffler a few specifics to improve.

“Just overall performance, better rotation, better location of the ball, a little bit better velocity,” Priefer said. “I think he wore down a little bit as the season wore on last year and I think he came back strong. You know, Cullen is a great guy and he’s very competitive and he’s very passionate about what he does and he’s got a great work ethic. And Kevin has come in and the chemistry between all four of these guys has been fantastic.”

Salary shouldn’t be an overriding factor. Although Loeffler’s contract is a one-year, $1.05 million deal with a $300,000 signing bonus, he counts only $665,000 against the cap with the veteran minimum salary benefit. McDermott’s cap number is $585,000 and he didn’t have a signing bonus, meaning it wouldn’t cost the Vikings anything to waive him unless he was injured.

But the competition will extend deep into the preseason.

“Kevin and Cullen, they’re both wonderful young men and they compete hard, but they also help each other out, they’re very encouraging with each other,” Priefer said. “They’re great in the locker room, so whatever one we decide to go with, I think we’re in good shape. I know we’re in good shape.”

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