Farwell Hopes To Prove He's Special

Every year the Vikings keep a roster spot reserved for a player whose main contribution is on special teams. Heath Farwell is doing and saying what he has to in order to become that one special player.

Vikings head coach Mike Tice has suggested that about a dozen roster spots are still up for grabs. On the brink of the final preseason game at Seattle, it appears linebacker Heath Farwell is zeroing in on one of the final 12.

All throughout training camp Tice and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell have repeatedly said they are impressed with Farwell's speed and playmaking abilities.

His climb has been steady and strong. He started training camp playing with the scout team on special teams. Then he moved up to second team special teams and occasionally played with the first-team units. Last week against San Diego, Farwell was an exclusive first-team special teamer. In Seattle Farwell expects to participate on most first-team special teams again.

He has the stage. Now it's time to shine.

As an undrafted rookie free agent from San Diego State, Farwell is doing exactly what he has to do. In fact, Farwell is following in the footsteps of fellow Aztecs defenders who used the Minnesota Vikings as a stepping stone that led to solid NFL careers.

Safety Robert Griffith went undrafted in 1994. He signed as a free agent with the Vikings and turned into a Pro Bowl player. The Vikings kept him in 1994 because he showed the signs of being a special teams ace. Griffith is entering his 12th season in the NFL, this year with Denny Green and the Arizona Cardinals.

The same thing happened to Brian Russell when he went undrafted in 2002. Russell hung on in Minnesota because he was a valuable special teams player. By the middle of his second year he was a starting safety. After making 11 interceptions in three seasons and playing all 16 games all three years, Russell signed with Cleveland as a free agent and will be the Browns' starting free safety next week when the regular season begins.

Farwell hopes to stick with the Vikings under a similar scenario. Sure, quietly he will admit that he will be happy just to get named to the practice squad. But Farwell hopes to be active on opening day, which six weeks ago appeared as likely as gasoline for three bucks a gallon.

"Look at the history of the Vikings signing free agents," said Farwell, temporarily playing the role as the organization's historian. "I trained with Robert Griffith and Brian Russell in the offseason. They always talk about rookie free agents and the Vikings' history of signing San Diego State guys."

The Vikings have had their eye on Farwell for a while. Assistant linebackers coach Pete Bercich scouted San Diego State last season. On one trip Bercich worked out some of the Aztec linebackers, including Farwell. Just as impressive as his workouts was that on Saturday afternoons Farwell didn't come off the field with the defense. Even as a senior Farwell loved playing special teams.

"I love special teams," said Farwell, who last year at San Diego State was named the Ironman player of the year for his special-teams play. "I've always wanted to be on the field as much as I could. I was on every special teams in high school and college.

"To be honest with you, special teams is all about effort. Everyone's pretty much talented in the NFL. The guys who excel are the guys who put the most effort into it."

Farwell, who plays behind E.J. Henderson at weakside linebacker, was a solid linebacker in college. His coaches nicknamed him the "Policeman" for the way the criminal justice major disrupted play in opponent's backfields.

Yet if Farwell is still standing after the roster gets trimmed down to 53 it will be because of what he has done on punt teams, kick teams, return teams.

"We're stocked at linebacker," Farwell said. "But I have to be able to show I can play at linebacker in case of injuries."

But make no mistake… "Special teams will be the key," he said. "I'm just hoping I can impress them with my special-teams work. It takes a special individual to play special teams. It's all effort and that's what I'm trying to show the coaches."

They have noticed so far. Farwell knows, though, these final days are crucial.

"Coach Tice and the coaches have definitely given me the opportunity," Farwell said. "I couldn't ask for anything more. The ball's in my court."

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