The punting situation was not among the concerns Mike Tice listed at the end of the Vikings' developmental camps earlier this week, and Travis Dorsch's time in NFL Europe may be the insurance policy that helps Tice relax when it comes to that portion of special teams.
The Vikings' youth movement at place-kicker might spread to the punter position if Travis Dorsch
performs in training camp as he did in NFL Europe this offseason.
Dorsch was named to the All-NFL Europe first team after leading the league in punting with a 42.5-yard average for the Rhein Fire. He punted 44 times with 11 inside the 20-yard line and a long of 60 yards.
Dorsch will compete with 40-year-old Darren Bennett
, who is coming off the worst of his 10 NFL seasons. Bennett had career lows for average (39.3) and punts downed inside the 20 (18) in 2004, his first season with the Vikings after nine years in San Diego.
Bennett teamed with 44-year-old kicker Morten Andersen
to give the Vikings the oldest duo of specialists in the league. Andersen, a free agent, was not re-signed. The place-kicking duties are up for grabs between Aaron Elling
and former Bear Paul Edinger
Dorsch was a fourth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals
in 2002 out of Purdue
. He never established himself with the Bengals and was released. He signed with the Vikings on Aug. 3, 2004.
Dorsch spent the first two weeks on the Vikings' practice squad. Bennett's age and poor 2004 season convinced the Vikings to sent Dorsch to NFL Europe.
Bennett has one year left on his contract. He signed a two-year deal last year worth more than $2 million.
Bennett, however, never got comfortable as a Viking last year. After years of heavy duty with the Chargers, Bennett went long stretches without punting last season. There was one game early in the season in which the Vikings didn't punt at all.
Bennett finished with a career-low 57 attempts. Without Randy Moss
this fall, Bennett's workload might increase. Of course, that's assuming the young Dorsch doesn't beat him out first.
Veteran MLB Sam Cowart, who was signed as a free agent from the Jets, has impressed coaches with his leadership and grasp of coordinator Ted Cottrell's defense. Cowart played for Cottrell in New York and Buffalo. "Sam certainly has made a difference in there with his quarterbacking skills at middle linebacker," coach Mike Tice said after a recent developmental camp. "He's been absolutely brilliant and excellent. And he has certainly shown that he has enough juice left in that body to be an excellent player."
TE Jermaine Wiggins will never look buff or chiseled, but coaches say he's in better shape than he was when he joined the team last season. "He signed a nice deal for him, and I think he feels loved right now," coach Mike Tice said. "He's been in the offseason program, and he's had a great offseason. His body actually looks better than it was. He kind of has the ugly body, but he looks better, he looks more fit."
The Vikings are being careful with WR Nate Burleson, who is coming back from surgery to repair a broken middle finger. "Nate's been running all the routes," offensive coordinator Steve Loney said. "He just can't catch the ball or stick a hand up on it."