Chris Kluwe was sitting with his wife in the injured-reserve players suite last week when the Vikings played the St. Louis Rams. Helplessly, he watched Darren Bennett struggle and heard the crowd voice its disapproval.
"My wife and I thought the booing sucked," Kluwe said this week. "The thing is, if they hadn't picked me up (in September), Darren is the guy who would be punting for the Vikings. You can't boo a guy after two punts. This is his first time punting since the preseason. You're just throwing him into a game situation and anyone will have to work the kinks out; naturally, he'd be rusty after not kicking for a few months."
It doesn't appear Bennett will need the time to remove the rust. Kluwe, who was out with a sore knee last week, punted Wednesday and Thursday. He is taking today off — as kickers will the rest of the season, head coach Mike Tice said — which means he should be ready to punt for the Vikings on Sunday against Pittsburgh.
The Vikings missed Kluwe. Last week against the St. Louis Rams, Bennett had eight punts and averaged 37.5 yards. Bennett's punts averaged eight yards less than Kluwe, who is ranked second in the NFC with a 45.3 average on 58 punts.
"Just to show you how valuable Chris Kluwe is to us, we have to go back and look at the last time … when we lost the field position game," Tice said about the Rams game.
Kluwe, who is listed on the injury report as questionable, says he is at about 85 percent. "It's good enough to punt on, but I'm not going to be running down there and tackling anyone," he said. "My knee was still swollen pretty badly last weekend so I could've tried, but I don't know how affective I would've been."
The week leading up to last week's game was a bit odd for Bennett, the veteran, and Kluwe, the rookie. Clearly, both understood their roles. Bennett was a one- or two-week substitute; Kluwe was temporarily shelved.
But it still made for a clumsy situation.
"Obviously it's going to be a little awkward," Kluwe said. "He knows he's only here for a couple of weeks and I know he's here to fill in while I'm injured. We looked at it as I got to get a break and got to rest my leg and he got a nice Christmas bonus. He got a couple of checks and I got some rest."
The Vikings have kept Bennett around this week as an insurance policy, in case Kluwe's knee swells up again either today or Saturday. If nothing else, Kluwe was able to spend a couple of weeks learning from an experienced veteran punter that was named to the NFL 1990s all-decade team.
"There's an experienced guy here that I can learn from," Kluwe said. "Look at what he's done. He's a great punter. By him being here it gives me a chance to learn from an experienced guy."
Even though he missed one game, Kluwe still has hopes he might be voted into the Pro Bowl. With three weeks left, Kluwe is ranked second in the NFC, behind Tampa Bay's Josh Bidwell, who is averaging 45.9 yards per punt. (Kluwe averages 45.3). Kluwe is ranked third in the entire NFL; New England's Josh Miller leads the league with a 46.0 average.
But even if Kluwe manages to pass Bidwell, the voting is already complete. And being a rookie, he knows the odds are stacked heavily against him winning a trip to Honolulu in February.
"The thing is, I don't know if being ranked first would get me to the Pro Bowl because usually you have to put in your time," he said. "But I figure even if I don't make it, this is a good year to get recognized and I can show that I can punt. Maybe then next year I can come out and do the same thing and then make the Pro Bowl.
"But coach Tice put something on the board that said, ‘Don't admire your accomplishments until you're done.' I still have to go out and keep kicking well."
Kluwe and the Vikings hopes he can do that Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Kluwe Knows the Score
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