Elling Faces Personal Challenge

The Vikings struggled mightily on special teams last year, which apparently has resulted in the eventual exit of Eddie Johnson. Could Aaron Elling be following him out the door sooner than later?

For a decade, one thing Denny Green had consistently was veteran kickers and punters. Under his watch, Gary Anderson and Fuad Reveiz each set NFL records for accuracy and Mitch Berger served valuable double duty as a kickoff specialist and punter.

That all changed under Mike Tice, who regretted having to release Anderson, but felt he couldn't use three kickers to fill roster positions. What followed was the Doug Brien disaster, the Hayden Epstein debacle and Eddie Johnson meltdown. As he starts his third full year as Vikings head coach, Tice has opted to end those problems. He's brought in former Pro Bowl punter Darren Bennett, but some are wondering how long he will stick with Elling.

Last year the Vikings tried just 25 field goals – only five teams tried fewer. At midseason, Tice began to eshew field goals to go for fourth down plays, not because the Vikings had a fourth-and-1, but because he didn't have the confidence that Elling could make a 45-yard field goal … with good reason. Elling missed five of 10 attempts last year from 40 yards or longer – only Bill Gramatica, Seth Marler, Jay Feely and Rian Lindell had a worse percentage among full-time kickers. Of those, only Feely looks to have a job with his same team this year.

As it stands, Tice has made no indication that anyone but Elling will be his kicker this year. The team didn't go out in free agency to address the matter, but the Chargers cited the Vikings as the reason they grabbed a kicker on the third round – convinced if they had let him slip, the Vikings would have taken him. Considering the intelligence coming out of San Diego, there's no way of knowing whether there was any truth to it, but this we can be certain of – if Elling struggles in the preseason or early in the regular season, Tice won't be shy about bringing out the hook. He's given him his confidence and has seen it shattered. The Vikings are close to making special things happen this year. If Elling isn't next to perfect, he will be made an example of, as the Vikings try to recapture the kicking accuracy that was their hallmark during the Green administration.

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