Kicking Battles Going Opposite Directions

Two of the biggest battles heading into training camp were for kicker (for sure) and punter (maybe). In the last week, reading between the lines, it sounds like one of those battles is still neck-and-neck while another is becoming pretty clear. Plus, find out how Mewelde Moore is improving and where a new preseason competition is emerging.

At the start of training camp, Vikings head coach Mike Tice said the competition between kickers Aaron Elling and Paul Edinger was close, but the coach didn't think he'd need the preseason games to see who was really separating himself.

Time for "Tice, Take II." Each kicker has performed well, which has Tice still waiting for a clear-cut winner after two preseason games.

"I'm totally baffled, I am honestly," Tice said when asked if there was a winner emerging. "I think the biggest (preseason) game to me is the one outside. I hope that it is windy in Seattle, and yesterday I had them kick into the wind. I thought one punter did well, I thought that one punter did horribly. I thought that both kickers handled the wind very well yesterday, which is great to see. I am anxious to see how they do this week with consistency with kickoffs inside, no wind. I'm looking to see how they do field goal wise in Seattle with hopefully some wind. I'm hoping we get some wind."

Coming into the training camp, it was clear that Elling had the stronger leg. He had been displaying that all during spring developmental camps. But after a training camp collapse in making field goals last year, it was also apparent that the Vikings might have more confidence in Edinger's ability on field goals, despite his career-low 62.5 percent conversion rate in 2004 with Chicago.

Now, after three weeks of training camp and two preseason games, both kickers are doing well.

"Whoever they end up choosing, it's a close battle," Elling said. "We're both kicking really well."

Elling has improved his field goal consistency in the last year, and Edinger's kickoffs are getting better.

"They have worked so hard and kicked so many kicks, I think there is a point where they are like everyone else, and they kind of hit the wall a little bit," Tice said. "I think there was a point where they had really kicked a lot of kicks leading up to that first preseason game. We backed off a couple of days, and I think they're like the rest of the players and they came back around. I think (Edinger's) kickoffs have gotten significantly better. He's 4.0 (seconds in hang time) consistently, whereas Aaron walked into the building with a strong, strong leg.

"Aaron seems to have settled down. I think if you tracked it, I don't believe Aaron has missed two kicks in a row, whereas last year he missed a kick, he missed two more kicks, he would miss a kick, he would miss three more kicks, he missed a kick, and he would miss every other kick. This year he'd miss a kick, he goes back, hits the next kick. I think that's a sign of maturity."

Like Edinger slowing his approach on field goals just a bit and speeding up his approach on kickoffs, Tice is also changing his approach to the kicking game.

"Last year, he was trying to help and stuff," Elling said of his head coach. "This year he's just (saying) ‘Do your thing.' I think that's helped."

According to Elling and other Vikings sources, Elling got information overload last season with too much critiquing from a number of coaches. Tice's public expectations may have also mellowed this year.

"They are not going to make every kick. I don't expect them to. I told them both that," Tice said. "But to come back after you missed one and make one, to me is significant, very significant."

The punter situation, on the other hand, seems to be securely in the hands (or foot) of Darren Bennett.

While Bennett struggled on a few kicks in his last preseason game, some of his worst ones were called back because of penalties, enabling him to rekick and boost his preseason average to a respectable 41.0 yards. Travis Dorsch, who entered the training camp race in second place, meanwhile, has struggled of late. His preseason average is 26.4 yards after impressive numbers in NFL Europe this spring.

"I'm going to give the one young man (Dorsch) a chance Friday night, but boy I tell you, I talk about consistency, I can't even get consistency in practice and that concerns me some," Tice said.

AFTER MORE REVIEW …

The Vikings implemented their plan to bring in officials for Tuesday night's scrimmage in an effort to cut down on their 17 penalties against the New York Jets last Friday night.

"We've got to eliminate the foolish penalties in there. We brought the officials in. Hopefully they will help address that," Tice said. "I didn't see a whole lot of flags lying on the ground last night. That's a good sign. We wanted them to call it close. We had Big Ten officials in. … We have gotten better since Friday and I am looking forward to seeing how that translates over to this Friday."

MOORE PROGRESS

It wasn't so long ago that second-year running back Mewelde Moore was in Tice's doghouse.

His transgressions: There was an important fumble that he didn't go after last year, not coming back from an ankle sprain quickly enough in Tice's estimation, and struggling with the pass-protection part of the running back's game. With all that, Moore wasn't used in a regular contributing role as a running back during much of the latter stages of 2004.

Now, following a neck injury to starter Michael Bennett and a diligent training camp from Moore, his opportunity is just around the corner – as early as Friday night's start against San Diego.

"(Moore) has settled down some," Tice said. "He is not rushing things in the passing game. He had six receptions (Tuesday) night (in a scrimmage)," Tice said. "He is working extremely hard on his blocking. He is taking the guys down the middle. He's not using his hands all the way – the way we want him to yet – but the key is he is taking the guys down the middle now and he's taking the right guys down the middle. Once they feel and get the feel that if they make a good block it's going to hurt a little bit, once they get over that, ‘Wow, that hurts,' they start to really get better in pass protection. Unfortunately for running backs, with that linebacker taking that full head of steam, when you make a good block it hurts."

ANOTHER BATTLE EMERGES

Cornerback Fred Smoot is back on the practice field as a starter. Cornerback Brian Williams didn't have a great game last Friday against the Jets. And Ralph Brown continues to be a quiet, consistent presence in the background.

All of those factors have heated up the Vikings' competition for the role of nickel back.

After starting all 16 games last season, Williams was thought to be a shoo-in for nickel back once Smoot's acquisition bumped Williams out of the starting role. Not so fast, according to Tice, who talked up Brown's presence this spring as well.

"There are a lot of battles out there for places on the roster, places on the practice squad and playing time. Who is going to be that first nickel? I don't know, I can't tell you that right now," Tice said. "Who is going to be that first nickel defensive back? Well, Ralph Brown has had a great preseason. Brian Williams has been starting since Fred (Smoot) has been out. But boy, both those kids are good football players."

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