For a former fourth-round draft pick, Travis Dorsch saw absolutely no shame in going overseas to hone his punting skills, even if it was three years after the Cincinnati Bengals drafted him.
Now he's hoping to finally see his NFL dream come true, if not with the Minnesota Vikings, his current team, then with another team in the league this year.
"I was drafted as a kicker, and when I tried to make the transformation to punter I knew I wasn't going to be ready right away," he said. "I didn't think it would take two years, but it has. I've grown a lot in the process and I think now after coming back from Europe I'm ready to play. It's not just a blind feeling. In the past it's been a blind feeling where I thought, yeah, I'm ready to go. Now I've been in the game, I know what I can do so I know I'm ready to go."
Dorsch punted his last two years at Purdue, but then didn't punt at all at Cincinnati. He lasted only a year there, but the Vikings have kept an eye on him since they considered drafting him in that 2002 college entry draft.
Instead, Dorsch is now relegated to a battle against veteran Darren Bennett to make the Vikings' roster. While it might be somewhat of a long shot, despite a poor start to the 2004 season by Bennett, Dorsch is hoping his NFL Europe experience will pay dividends as a test run for special teams coordinator Rusty Tillman and head Mike Tice.
"It was amazing for me. It was an opportunity that I needed," Dorsch said. "I hadn't had a live punt in two years and I just needed to get out there and get a rhythm and play in a ballgame again and feel the adrenaline and get out there and do it."
While there, Dorsch led the league with a 42.5-yard average with a 34.9-yard net and long of 60 yards as a member of the Rhein Fire. Over the course of the spring, he punted 44 times for 1,870 yards with 11 punts inside the 20-yard line.
All total, those numbers earned him a spot on the All-NFL Europe team.
"Average to me was not real important," he said. "My main focus going over there was to show Rusty and Coach Tice and all those guys here in this building that I can handle what's thrown at you during the course of the season, anything from directional punting to pooch punting to handling live situations. I think I did that and came back a much better player than I went over there as."
Impressive averages can be deceiving for punters, but Dorsch said his hang time was good and he was satisfied with the results.
"I had a great share of punts that we can win with. We have a formula in-house here that we talk about when we watch film, and looking at my stats, I feel like I'm there," he said. "Sometimes there's an issue about out-kicking your coverage a little bit, but as long as you keep the hang-time up there everything is good."
Dorsch originally signed with the Vikings on Aug. 3, 2004, and spent the opening
two weeks of the 2004 season on the practice squad. The team was hoping to use him for kickoffs, but he never found the consistency they were looking for there. The Vikings released him after two weeks and allocated him to NFL Europe this spring.
He said he can't pinpoint one weakness in his game and just needs to continue his overall improvement if he wants to supplant Bennett, a helpful veteran with a track record of mentoring young punters, on the Vikings' roster.
"I just think I need to become a better professional, better at everything. There are little things I can work on, and in that respect Darren's been huge for me," Dorsch said. "Darren is a great professional. … He's just been great at bringing me along and helping me mature.
"When I say he's a unique pro, I don't feel any tension at all. Sometimes in situations in camp, you feel like an older vet maybe has it out for you or is wary of you taking his job, but I haven't sensed that at all with Darren. I just look at it as a good opportunity for me. He's a guy that's been through every door in this league. Anything he can pass on to me, I'm a sponge. I've got open ears."
While the odds seem to favor Bennett's experience in making the final roster, there is another factor that might come into play. Aaron Elling and Paul Edinger will be embroiled in a training camp battle at the kicker position. If Edinger wins that job, Dorsch's ability to kick off as well as punt would become more valuable, but he'd have to win over Tice in that respect. Last year, Dorsch failed to grab that opportunity. If Elling wins the kicker job, then there would be no need for Dorsch to kick off because Elling was clearly the best at that task in spring practices.
Either way, it's an asset that can't be completely dismissed.
"The more you can do, it helps," Dorsch said. "(At developmental camps), Aaron's absolutely hitting the air out of the ball. We haven't seen yet what's going to happen between Aaron and Paul, but if Aaron's here, I would see no reason why he wouldn't be kicking off. But the fact that I can do it helps me, whether I'm here as a Minnesota Viking or somewhere else across the league. The more you can do, the better chance you have of making it. It's something that's on the backburner a little bit, but I keep working and focusing on punting, first and foremost."
And that's where his NFL Europe experience helped the most. He was able to hone his punting skills in game situations and learn about his past. Dorsch's father was born in Germany and Dorsch speaks the language "semi-fluently." He says it was a great experience to learn a little about his heritage. The food may have gotten old after a while, but he said he will always look back on it as a great experience.
Dorsch Feeling Game-Ready
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