Kluwe Thinking Big for 2006

Entering training camp, punter was considered a position that literally could have been up in the air. Incumbent Chris Kluwe is coming back from surgery to his ACL in his kicking knee, but that hasn't stopped him from thinking big this year.

Go figure. As a rookie free agent last year, after being signed as an emergency stop-gap when veteran Darren Bennett's productivity faded, Chris Kluwe finished as the second-ranked punter in the entire NFC. Then he spent the offseason watching free agent John Torp boom punts in Vikings minicamps.

Life is cruel, ain't it?

On the surface, that appears to be the case. Kluwe, who averaged 44.1 yards per punt for the Vikings last season, tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee against Detroit on Dec. 4. He missed one game, but returned for the final three games even though his knee would require surgery. That delay, though, might have been the reason Kluwe's knee was fluctuating between 75 and 100 percent as training camp neared. So the speculation surfaced of a training camp punting battle.

"Honestly, I don't know when I got to 100 percent," Kluwe said. "I haven't been paying that much attention to it. Throughout the offseason I kept focusing on getting through rehab and making sure everything was structurally sound.

"It was frustrating at the end of last season because I started out the season so strong, but it was a learning experience. You take what you can from it and you keep going, so I focused on coming back from the knee injury and making sure I had my technique down. So far, so good."

In truth, it would be a major upset if the Vikings would not retain Kluwe as their punter. As a rookie free agent, he showed tremendous poise last season. In addition to his impressive kicking average, he pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line 17 times; he had just six touchbacks.

As Pro Bowl balloting was taking place, Kluwe was considered a serious candidate to go to Honolulu to represent the NFC. But name recognition certainly played a role, considering special teams rookies rarely make the Pro Bowl. Entering his sophomore season, Kluwe has his sights set on Hawaii.

"For me, every year the goal is the Pro Bowl," Kluwe said. "If you don't set expectations high you will never achieve anything worthwhile, but the Pro Bowl is secondary to what I can do for the team. If it comes down to making the Pro Bowl or helping the team win the Super Bowl, obviously it'd be the Super Bowl. I just want to do what I can to make sure we win."

Another positive sign for Kluwe is his new assignment to be Ryan Longwell's holder for field goals and extra points. Kluwe held kicks at UCLA. Quarterback Brad Johnson held kicks for Paul Edinger last season.

"Ryan's a great guy," Kluwe said. "I got a chance to meet him when he visited here after he signed and we've been hanging out throughout the whole training camp. As his holder, I have to make sure everything's right and in good form, so I've gotten to know him really well. He has a lot of experience that I can learn from. Hopefully I can work with him for years."

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