The life of the lonesome kicker has been a topic for Hollywood comedy, but Vikings kicker Aaron Elling has been far from lonely this offseason.
The second-year kicker has been working with special teams coach Rusty Tillman, kicking consultant Doug Blevins and even getting visits from head coach Mike Tice just before the field goal snap in practices this spring.
Yes, Aaron Elling has had his share of people trying to help him, and it's all in an effort to improve his consistency, confidence and range — all items that appear to be in fine form for 2004.
"I've been kicking great. I've been kicking really, really well," Elling said of his work in the developmental camp that ended last week. "Today, missing one field, I'm upset. Last year I was like, ‘I only missed one,' but now it's like, ‘Shoot, I should have had that one too.' By far, my standard has really stepped up."
Elling made 18 of 25 field goals in 2003 with a long of 51 yards, but as the season wore on, it appeared Tice was losing confidence in Elling's ability to convert from over 40 yards. By Elling's account of a conversation between the two of them, that wasn't the case.
"Coach Tice was pretty up front with me and told me that he was happy with what I did last year. Obviously, there is always going to be stuff you wish you could do a little better, some of the shorter ones," Elling said.
Earlier this month, Tice worked his head games with the kicker. When it was time for Elling to perform at the end of practices, Tice wouldn't hesitate to make sure Elling knew the coach was only a couple yards away. In fact, it seems one of Tice's favorite ploys is to walk between Elling and new holder Darren Bennett just before the ball is snapped.
It didn't seem to faze the 26-year-old second-year pro.
"You've got everyone walking around and coach is giving you a hard time and talking. There's stuff that you hear in practice, people right there in your ear. You hear nothing in a game — it's so loud and you're so focused," Elling said. "I actually get a little more anxious in practice than I do on the field.
"If you can concentrate with your head coach walking in front of you and talking, that's more than you're going to hear on the field. You block all that other stuff out and it's the same kick anywhere."
Elling's 2003 season started on a high, but the problems inevitably surfaced later in the year.
"It's definitely a high when you have a good game. I was on Cloud Nine after the Green Bay game last year, 3-for-3. I thought, ‘What a way to start off.' Then you go into the Oakland game, where I missed two in the first half, I'm 1-for-3. That game more than any of them really bit me. If I could take that game back, I would, but I have to get better. When you have a great game, there's nothing like that. When you have a bad game, you just have to push it behind you."
After going to training camps with Miami in 2001 and Seattle in 2002, Elling finally made the 53-man roster of the Vikings in 2003. Consistency was one question mark in his first season, but the Vikings were also concerned about his length on kickoffs.
With a good offseason, Elling thinks he has added length in both kickoffs and field goals.
"I think I've gotten a lot stronger on kickoffs. Last year I'd miss hit one and it'd be to the 12. This year I'm miss hitting them and they're to the 5. I feel 150 times better about my kickoffs than I did last year. If you go out and hit a nice field goal and then don't hit a good kickoff, that wears on you too. I need to have this frame of mind that everything is good, everything is going to be touchbacks, and that's what I'm working on."
On his field goal range this year: "I don't think I'll leave it short anywhere inside 58 or 59 (indoors), 60 is a good hit. I was in here (at the indoor practice facility) the other day and I was pushing them right a little, but where I feel comfortable probably would be 55 and in. I'm not saying that would be 100 percent, but I don't have any problem getting it there from 55. It's just when you get back that far those goal posts look pretty skinny."
Two things will change for sure for Elling this season, maybe three. He has a new holder in Bennett.
"It's nice having him around all the time where he's with us. Gus (Frerotte) was at practice the whole time when we were in here doing our stuff, so we didn't get a lot of reps. Now it's like every day I'm getting 20 reps with him," Elling said.
He has a new consultant in longtime NFL kicking guru Doug Blevins (although Blevins did offer some limited advice at the end of last season). He worked with Blevins in college, and last year Blevins would even e-mail Tillman about what he saw wrong in Elling's form. "He can come watch me for five minutes and tell me what I'm doing wrong on kickoffs," Elling said of Blevins. "Now I think we've got them where we them."
And Elling could have a new long snapper. Incumbent Brody Liddiard is fighting for a roster spot with rookies Cullen Loeffler and Richard Owens.
Many aspects surround Elling in 2004 could be new, but he's hoping that his increased range and consistency will keep the coaching staff from even thinking of brining in a new kicker.
Elling Kicking Longer, More Confidently
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