Veteran Paul Edinger is now a Viking. Coaches say it's Aaron Elling's job to lose. And then there is free-agent rookie kicker Jonathan Nichols.
Nichols was considered a late-round draftable kicker out of the University of Mississippi, but when he wasn't selected on April 24, the draft's second day, he opted to sign with the Vikings, who at the time had Elling and Jose Cortez on the roster as kickers.
The Vikings, who wanted to draft Ohio State's Mike Nugent in the second round before the New York Jets beat them to it, wasted little time in getting ahold of Nichols during and after the draft.
"It's never a sure thing. You never know if you'll get drafted or not. I knew it could go either way with me, but the Vikings called before the draft was over. Then about 30 seconds after the draft was over they said they wanted to do a deal," said Nichols, who won the Groza Award as the NCAA's top kicker in 2003. "They told me that before, but they had my agent on the line and got a deal as soon as it was over."
"The Cowboys had said a week earlier that they weren't going to draft a kicker and they wanted to do a deal after the draft. The Bears' special teams coach was calling my agent at the same time. It (Minnesota) seemed like a good spot to come."
Ironically, a few weeks after the draft and having failed to sign Nichols, the Bears inked veteran Doug Brien and released Edinger. Nichols' spot on the roster may seem a little less inviting now that Edinger was added to Minnesota's cadre of talent and Jose Cortez was released.
Nichols is most similar to Edinger, in that he admittedly doesn't have great leg strength.
"Probably my strength is consistency and accuracy on field goals. My weakness right now is probably my kickoffs as far as my distance and hang," Nichols said. "That's something I have to work on.
"I know I have to work on it. It's all about timing and getting your steps down right. It's something I can fix. It's just something I need to work on."
It may sound like Nichols is just a camp body, one of those players brought in to give veterans a little rest during the practice-intense times surrounding training camp. He might end up being that, but his past dictates that he deserves more respect.
He set 15 school records at Ole Miss and is its all-time leading scorer with 344 points. He also sits atop the school record books with 63 field goals made and 155 point-after touchdowns made and 157 attempted. He was also on the Dean's List.
And yet, Edinger and Elling are the favorites right now.
Elling holds the advantage in leg strength, but all three of the Vikings' potential kickers need to work on either finding consistency in their field goals or getting back to the consistency they once had.
In his senior season, Nichols made 20 of 27 field goal attempts, but even that .741 percentage was the worst of his last three years of service at Ole Miss.
"I had an injury my senior year that affected me probably three or four games that season," he said. "I had a bone bruise on top of my foot, which is right where I was hitting the ball. I didn't practice for three weeks, I just kicked in games."
He says about four of his seven errant field goals occurred during his kicking-while-injured period his senior season.
Nichols is healthy now, but injured or not, Elling and Edinger are the clear-cut favorites over the long shot from Mississippi. Then again, that's exactly how Elling's NFL career started – with a training camp stint with Miami and Seattle in 2001 and 2002, respectively, before catching on as the Vikings' full-time kicker in 2003.
Nichols Is The Kicking Long Shot
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