Alex Reyes showed the past few months that he might just be more than a "camp leg," which is the term for a player brought in to take some of the offseason-induced kicking strain away from the starters.
But it appears he is more than a token camp kicker. In fact, during head coach Brad Childress's minicamp-ending talk with reporters, the kicking game was something he mentioned that pleased him early.
"I thought we kicked the ball well during the camp," Childress said. "The kickers, (Ryan) Longwell, (Chris Kluwe), Reyes, I thought they did a nice job in terms of putting the foot on the football. I just want that to continue to progress, that consistency, that standard of performance. I thought we did good things there."
In the NFL world, rookie challengers rarely get a legitimate chance to compete for a roster spot against a veteran incumbent. Reyes could be the exception when training camp practices begin on July 27, but he gives incumbent Chris Kluwe respect.
"It's kind of like a pitcher. You have your on and off days. We've all had our on days and we've all had our off days, but Kluwe has an amazing leg," Reyes said. "He has an absolute cannon, so hopefully coach sees something in me."
Reyes' punting average from his senior season at Texas Tech is one thing the Vikings saw. After averaging more than 42 yards per punt in each of his first three seasons, he improved to a 45.2-yard average on 42 punts last year.
But it is not just his punting that will give him a chance to make the team. His versatility could help his roster bid. While he hasn't held for kicker Ryan Longwell's field goal attempts in practice, he says he can do that as well (Kluwe is the starter there as well), but his main point of intrigue is his ability to kick off as well as punt.
"It helps me out a little bit and it helps that I can hold too, and (Kluwe) holds," Reyes said. "I can (kick fields goals) too. I can do that, that but it's not something I'm comfortable with."
Ultimately, the Texas Tech product will be judged on his punting and kickoffs. At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, he was too inconsistent, said Scout.com's Tom Marino, a veteran of more than 30 years of scouting in the professional football ranks.
"He was a bit too inconsistent with his contact even though he has a big leg," Marino wrote in his combine evaluation of Reyes. "If he gets an opportunity to work in some camps and get some coaching at the pro level, he still has some potential."
Reyes still seems to be in awe of having a shot at the NFL – "Words can't describe it," he said – despite what people inside and outside of the league were telling him prior to April's NFL draft.
"People were telling me I (had a chance) and I was talking to some teams and whatnot, and then I got invited to the combine. I was hoping it was going to happen, but I really didn't know," he said.
He said he also talked with the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos.
Amazingly, he still doesn't know how he stacked up with other punters at the combine. Maybe he wanted to forget an inconsistent performance that was laced with potential. He punted twice under 40 yards – of 27 and 36 yards – but he also hit two others over 50 yards. In his eight combine punts, it seemed the better hang time he got, the more distance he also got.
So far, the Vikings haven't asked him to change his technique.
"They say, ‘Do what you do that got you here. Don't change anything. We liked what we saw in film. We're not going to change anything about you.' That's nice," he said.
Last year, a point of emphasis for Kluwe (who at the time was recovering from a knee injury) was directional punting. That was still the case this spring with both punters, and it was something Reyes was looking to get more comfortable with, especially on an NFL field.
"We did directional kicking in college, but the hashes were a little bit wider and I could put it between the numbers and the sideline and now they're in a lot more. … I have to take a little bit more drastic of an angle," he said. "I'm still getting it at this point. Going right isn't that bad, but going left it's a little bit more drastic for me."
Reyes seems outgoing and personable, but he also sounds nervous of about his future with the team.
"I could have four good kicks in a row and then have one bad one and it's like, oh my gosh, that could have been the kick where they say, ‘You had all these bad kicks but you had that one that wasn't so good.' You never know when you're going to walk in there and it's going to be your day," Reyes said. "It's a huge mind game, but it's always a mind game with a kicker."
Punter Figuring Out His Direction
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