In developmental camp, Paul Edinger tweaked his approach to field goals, slowing down a smidgen. In training camp, he has fine-tuned his approach to kickoffs, speeding up a tad. He hopes those two changes means he'll have a job in the regular season.
Edinger is embroiled in one the Minnesota Vikings' most heated training camp battles with Aaron Elling for the starting kicking spot.
"I think it's going to be a tough decision for Coach," Edinger said. "We're both kicking the ball great. Aaron's the best kicker that I've seen, that I've practiced with. Over the past five years, out of all the guys I've seen come through Chicago, Aaron's the best one I've seen. He kicks the ball far. Whatever happens, we'll be playing, both of us, no matter where it is."
Edinger had a solid start to his NFL career, hitting over 75 percent of his field goals in each of his first three seasons with the Chicago Bears. That's when the Vikings first took a run at the restricted free agent, signing him to an offer sheet that was matched by Chicago.
Then his struggles began. In 2003, he converted 72.2 percent of his field goal attempt, and last season he hit rock bottom, making good on only 62.5 percent of his attempts.
Even so, the Vikings still liked him enough to bring him in for a camp battle for the starting position. Edinger is generally considered the more consistent field goal kicker while Elling has the stronger leg. But Edinger has been improving in the kickoff department since the start of training camp and says both kickoffs and field goals are areas that are important to him being able to make the 53-man roster.
"Obviously after last year's field goal performance, which was horrible, I have to show I can hit field goals," he said. "My kickoffs are just night and day right now compared to the last five years."
Special teams coach Rusty Tillman has noticed.
"Edinger's kickoffs are getting better," Tillman said. "We sped up his approach and he's working on landing a couple yards (further) downfield and he's improved.
"I said I didn't want to mess him up, but I said, ‘I think what you're doing is when you're hitting a kickoff it's almost like you're hitting a field goal, you're almost stopping. You're not going through the ball. I said, ‘If you speed up your approach and get up and through it …' and he said, ‘OK, we'll give it a try.' He's doing real well with it. He's kicking off better."
Edinger said the change isn't a major one, but it's one that he can definitely feel when he strikes the ball.
"Just the way the ball is coming off my foot and the flight of the ball, you can take the last four or five years kicking off – even last year was better than the four before – but from this training camp you can just tell from the way the ball is flying. It's so much better; it's more consistent. Each kick is good, not just five or six (good ones) and then have one short kick to the right because I got under it."
It could be the difference between a job in Minnesota or his walking papers.
"Kickoffs are huge. Coach is really stressing the kickoffs. Starting the game off, kickoffs change momentum, gets the team pumped up, keeps the other team back on their heels. It's huge," Edinger said. "For me, to show I can put the ball down there is going to help me tremendously."
Even if Edinger's kickoffs continue to improve, it's doubtful he will be out-kicking Elling in that department by the time the September roster cuts roll around. But if Edinger can continue to improve in that department and be consistent in field goals he has a shot.
However, his performance Tuesday wasn't one to inspire a great amount of confidence in the coaches.
"(Tuesday morning) wasn't my best day, compared to the rest of camp," Edinger said. "I missed two. One was to the right and it was a like a slice. The other one just went that way. It was a good kick, but I just kicked it right."
Many observers feel that Elling has shown enough confidence in his field goals and a clear separation in his kickoffs to warrant a slight edge in the competition. Edinger isn't sure who has the advantage right now and he'd like to secure the job, but the life of the vagabond NFL kicker has him naturally keeping an eye on things around the league this preseason.
"You have to. I'm trying to watch the preseason games to see how they're doing. There are probably two (kickers around the league) that are struggling," he said. "We'll see. I sure would hope to be here."
Changes Help Edinger's Kicks
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