Edinger Signing Another Challenge For Elling

Life has hardly been smooth sailing for Vikings kicker Aaron Elling, but even with the signing of Paul Edinger, Elling still has a chance to stay in the game. He chronicled his past challenges and his outlook.

Aaron Elling's rocky ride continues.

The fact that the Vikings signed kicker Paul Edinger should come as no surprise to Elling, a kicker whose last calendar year has been a whirlwind of ups and a few more downs.

It seems every time Elling has a chance to establish himself as the Vikings' one and only placekicker, something bad happens.

His NFL career started with a training-camp stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2001, then another training camp foray with the Seattle Seahawks in 2002. Finally, in 2003, Elling got an opportunity to kick field goals during the regular season with his home-state Vikings. Guess what? Elling connected on 18 of 25 attempts for 72 percent, better than Edinger's 62 percent with Chicago last year.

But it's hardly a surprise that the Vikings brought in a veteran to compete for the job, despite these words from head coach Mike Tice at minicamp.

"I don't foresee us bringing somebody in just to bring somebody in," Tice said during minicamp weekend. "If it isn't broke, don't fix it. That's the way I'm going to look at it. Right now, it isn't broke and (Elling) is hitting the ball real well. If it starts to look like it's getting broken, then we're going to have to fix it."

It hasn't been broke with Elling, but the Vikings have coveted Edinger since before they signed him to a five-year, $7 million offer sheet when he was a restricted free agent in 2003. In their minds, Edinger's signing is more than just bringing somebody in. Elling is left hoping the competition will be a fair one, which he said probably wouldn't have happened if the Vikings had selected former Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent in the second round of April's NFL Draft. Minnesota would have done that if Nugent wasn't selected by the New York Jets two picks earlier, causing the Jets to release former Viking Doug Brien, who then became another source of signing speculation in Minnesota.

You see, the rumors of the Vikings bringing in heavy competition for Elling have been going on for months, and he has become accustomed to all the speculation.

"Young college guys, it's a different game. There are a few guys that have come in and done exceptionally well. If it would have been a fair competition (with Nugent), that would have been fine, but getting drafted that early, it wouldn't have been fair," Elling said. "Doug (Brien) asked to get released in New York after they drafted (Nugent). From what I remember – everybody was talking about bringing Doug Brien back – but I think everyone ran him out of here when he had a bad game.

"It just goes in circles. He's 80 percent for his career, but that's just how it happens. I had one bad game, and it was a preseason game. That's just how it goes and you deal with it. Stuff is going to be said. Being in our position, we can't control what is said behind closed doors, but we just try and do our best."

Elling will have to live up to his best to beat out Edinger, but before that signing Elling said no matter what the Vikings did or didn't do in regards to signing a kicker, it would still be on him to beat out the competition.

"If I go out and do what I can do, then it shouldn't be a problem," Elling said of the possibility of the Vikings signing any veteran. "The only thing I can control is what I do. I can't worry about all that other stuff. … I can't worry about who's coming in. People ask me, ‘What are you going to do?' Well, you just go with it. That's the life of the kicker."

He leans on his wife for support and told her that if they made it through last year, they could make it through anything.

Last year – when he had a bad preseason game and began struggling with consistency in training camp, was released, then signed by Tennessee for one game, then returned to Minnesota as a kickoff specialist – was another in a series of learning experiences for him.

"I look back on it and see that everything that could go wrong for me in training camp went wrong," Elling said. "It was a battle, and the battle kind of got me. But I learned from it."

Through it all, he never considered giving up on his NFL career, never thought of retiring. "That's not me. … It's always been hard for me, from being a free agent and making the team here, it's always been a battle. I knew I'd be playing somewhere, and to come back here was awesome."

One of the sources of his downfall last year was believed to be Doug Blevins. Blevins is considered a kicking guru in NFL circles, so the Vikings brought him in to work on mechanics with the kickers. While Blevins proved to Elling that he knew what he was doing, it became information overload for the kicker. He compared his pre-kick thought process to a commercial that is currently airing that depicts a golfer recalling numerous pre-swing thoughts that hinder his natural ability.

Part of that was from getting too much information from Blevins.

"He's great to work with in the offseason for a couple days at a time, but I think having him here and just the constant ‘should have done this, should have done that …' You're back there getting ready to kick and there are just a million things going through your mind. You've just got to block all that stuff out and go do what you need to do – it was just hard. And then once you get down on yourself, you're fighting and you're trying so much harder to be perfect, it just kind of snowballed and fell apart that one game."

When Elling was released, the Titans picked him up for the season opener as one-game injury stopgap. Once the Vikings were convinced Morten Andersen no longer had the leg to kick off, they re-signed Elling for those duties.

Six games later, the misfortune struck again when Elling broke his ankle making a tackle on an extended kickoff return.

"Getting hurt, that was tough because I was finally getting back in the groove of kicking off. Of course, you want to be doing everything, but I was finally kickoff off and hitting the ball real well. Then you get hurt and you're starting over again. That's how sports are. Every day is a new day, you just fight and try and get better."

Elling was back kicking the week of the Vikings' first playoff game, but because the Vikings had to place him on injured reserve, his season was over. He was in a cast for three weeks, but the broken ankle took only seven weeks to heal, a time period that he termed "amazing."

In fact, he said he felt lucky that it was only a broken bone and not a blown-out knee, which it looked like in replays of the incident, in which Elling tackled kick returner Dominic Rhodes and was bent backwards.

He started out kicking "ginger" 30-yarders seven weeks later, but after the Vikings lost to Philadelphia in the playoffs, Elling took a week off and then came back kicking full-boot.

Because of his time on injured reserve, Elling felt like he got lost in the shuffle in fans' minds before the draft, with followers wondering if he was healthy and hoping the Vikings would draft Nugent.

Elling said his field goal accuracy in practices has been good and that he puts more pressure on himself kicking at Winter Park than he does during games.

The Edinger signing prompted the Vikings to release Jose Cortez Wednesday. With Jonathan Nichols as his competition, Elling proved to be the most consistent kickoff man in minicamp and developmental camp. That leaves Elling, Edinger and Nichols as the remaining trio battling it out over the summer, but for sure the signing of Edinger puts renewed pressure on Elling.

He's just hoping his luck changes this year.


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