Elling Ready For Healthy Competition

Vikings kicker Aaron Elling says he was relieved when the team didn't draft a kicker, and now he's ready for a fair competition. He details his feelings on draft day, his recovery from a broken leg and his mental status throughout his professional career.

The running joke in the media room on Draft Day was that Scott Studwell was the most relieved person in town when the New York Jets drafted Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent in the second round, two picks before the Vikings were on the clock.

You see, Studwell – the Vikings' director of college scouting – is an "old-school" football man, who doesn't see the value in spending a high draft choice on a kicker. Meanwhile, head coach Mike Tice was openly lobbying for the team to select Nugent, the top collegiate kicker in the draft, telling fans at the team's draft party that he'd have taken Nugent in the first round if the Vikings had owned a third first-round pick.

So, when the Jets slipped ahead of the Vikings and drafted Nugent to replace Doug Brien (sound familiar, Vikings fans?), one scribe in the media room quipped that Studwell must have given the Jets a sixth-round draft pick to take that decision out of the Vikings' hands.

But there was one other person in the Twin Cities who was even more relieved than Studwell. Vikings kicker Aaron Elling had heard the rumors and knew his roster spot would be precarious at best if Nugent was brought on board.

"I was almost positive that they were going to draft a kicker, and I'm glad that they didn't, because I don't think that was going to solve the problems," said Elling. "If you really want to solve the problem, if you think there is one, why don't you go get a free agent, you know what I mean? So yeah, I was happy, because I want to stay here, I like it here. I grew up a Vikings fan, being from Minnesota, so do you really want to go somewhere else? Not really – I want to stay here and I want to compete."

But going head-to-head and foot-to-foot with a second-round draft pick wouldn't be much of a competition, Elling said.

"He's drafted, and it's pretty clear early that he's the guy. If they want to bring any competition in, just make it a fair field, you know? Make it a level playing field for all of us and may the best man win, and that's fine. But it wasn't going to be that way, so when they didn't draft one, I was for sure happy."

Now, Elling appears to be the leading candidate to get his old job back. Two years ago, Elling had a solid rookie season, making 18 of 25 field goals and generally earning the confidence of the Vikings coaching staff. But in training camp last August, Elling's slide began. In practice, he sprayed field goal attempts all over Mankato. In a preseason game at the Metrodome, he missed an extra point and two field goals. And by the final preseason game at Seattle, he was gone, replaced initially by Brett Conway and then Morten Andersen.

Elling said the problems began long before he arrived in Mankato last summer. "Last year, even in the offseason, I'd come out and if I missed one field goal a day, that would make me mad. I was just so dialed in. Then in training camp, something happened, I kind of struggled and had that bad game. … According to everyone we've been struggling for years, and this and that, but it was one game."

When Elling was cut, he went to Tennessee, where he kicked and punted well enough in the Titans' season-opening 17-7 win at Miami that he was given a game ball. But the Titans' plan all along was to bring back former Viking Gary Anderson, and due to a contractual issue they needed a sub for just one game, so Elling was cut again. He wound up back in Minnesota, signed as a kickoff specialist, and was doing well before he broke his ankle making a tackle in Indianapolis on Nov. 8.

But Elling said the shot of confidence he received in his one game as a Titan helped turn his attitude – and career – around. "I think it got me realigned and back on track and made me want to be there again," said Elling. "I was just so down on myself that last game here in the preseason, and after Tennessee it was like I was refocused."

Now, he's focused on getting healthy – he says he's there – and getting back to where he was mentally as a rookie.

"I was out maybe eight weeks with a broken leg, and since the week we played Green Bay in the playoffs I've been back kicking, full-strength and back to normal," Elling said. "It was a quick heal – there were no ligaments or anything hurt so it was relatively easy. If anything, (the injury) helped my focus a little, because at first when I started kicking … I could feel it. It was a little ginger, so I just worked on the technique and stayed with the technique.

"I've been kicking better, the power's fine, I'm kicking kickoffs great. It's just one day at a time and just keep competing."

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