What a difference a preseason game can make.
In 2005, the Vikings had aging veteran Darren Bennett as their punter. Once known for booming mile-high punts that went 50 or more yards, Bennett had been reduced to short punts and line-drive kicks that were eminently returnable. In the final preseason game that year, the Vikings played the Seahawks, where rookie Chris Kluwe was fighting an unwinnable battle with incumbent veteran Ryan Plackemeier. The Vikings liked what they saw … or at least figured Kluwe had to be better than what they were seeing from Bennett.
As a result, when Kluwe was waived by the Seahawks days later, the Vikings struck, signed him and sent Bennett off to retirement. Two years later, Kluwe looks to be the Vikings' punter for the not-so-near future.
The Vikings announced Thursday that Kluwe has signed a six-year contract extension worth as much as $8.3 million. The deal includes a $1.7 million signing bonus and a $225,000 workout bonus.
Through six games, Kluwe is averaging 44.2 yards a punt (seventh best in the NFC), but he leads the league in pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line. Of his 36 punts this year, 18 of them of put the opponent inside their own 20 for offensive starting position. Only one other punter – the aforementioned Plackemeier with 17 – has more than 13 kicks that have put the opponents inside the 20.
The Vikings and head coach Brad Childress vowed to make special teams more of a priority and have backed up those words with action. One of the first signings the Vikings made was to ink veteran kicker Ryan Longwell to a deal that runs through 2010. Last year, they signed long-snapper Cullen Loeffler to a five-year extension through the 2011 season. With the signing of Kluwe, he's locked up until 2013, showing the Vikings are taking special teams seriously and intend to have the same group in place for the next several years.
* With the new contract, Kluwe is now among the top-10 paid punters in the league.
* Kluwe is the second Viking this season to receive an in-season contract extension. Pat Williams signed a three-year extension in September worth $23 million and joins teammates Kevin Williams, Bryant McKinnie and E.J. Henderson, who were all given contract extensions late in the 2006 season.
* Kelly Holcomb took most of the first-team snaps Thursday in practice and it looks almost certain that, unless he suffers some sort of injury, he will be the starter Sunday against the Eagles.
* Childress said that the injury that got Chester Taylor included on the team's injury report with a groin injury is minor, saying the league requires those players who don't fully participate in practice to be listed on the injury report. Taylor will likely end up listed as probable and is expected to be in uniform and playing Sunday.
* Dwight Smith hasn't been ruled out of Sunday's game yet, but he missed practice for a second straight day and will likely be listed as out on today's injury report submitted to the league.
* Special teamer Vinny Ciurciu returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday – his first practice since suffering a high ankle sprain Oct. 14. His status for Sunday is still uncertain.
* Koren Robison was less than spectacular in his role as kick returner in practice for the Packers Thursday. Of the dozen or so kicks he took in practice, he fumbled two and bobbled three others.
* The Eagles expect to have both CB Lito Sheppard and LB Takeo Spikes starting Sunday. Sheppard, who missed four games with a knee injury, returned to action last week, but was limited in Thursday's practice. Spikes sat out Wednesday's practice with a shoulder injury. Both were listed as fully participating in Thursday's practice.
* The news isn't as promising for right tackle Jon Runyan. He missed a second straight practice with a tailbone injury suffered while getting into a cold tub in the trainer's room. His status remains uncertain.
* Eagles TE L.J. Smith, who has played in just one game this year as the result of having groin surgery, is practicing and is expected to be activated Sunday.
* Eagles safety Brian Dawkins hasn't played since injuring his neck in Week 2 and has noticeably lost weight as a result of not being able to do upper body weight training. He has yet to be medically cleared to resume contact drills and will be out Sunday.
* Former Viking QB Todd Bouman was signed by the Jaguars Thursday. Bouman, who declined to sign retirement papers after being released by the Saints last year, spent the fall as an assistant coach at Buffalo (Minn.) High School.
Kluwe: 6 Years, $8.3M
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