Observers at training camp typically see a similar setting every day – offense on one field, defense on another and the specialists – kickers Ryan Longwell and Steven Hauschka, punter Chris Kluwe and long snapper Cullen Loeffler – hanging out on the sidelines.
While the rest of the team is sweating and hitting blocking sleds and each other, the specialists appear to have the cushiest of all jobs – hanging out like fans with really good views of the action. But that isn't the case. While it may not seem like it, the specialists are working. It just isn't always as public as the rest of the practice.
"Our practice usually begins early," Loeffler said. "We're always the first guys on the field. We're usually out there about 20 minutes before everybody else and we're working while the other guys are warming up and stretching. Our period of practice usually comes early on, so it may look like we're standing around a lot. But we're doing our job."
The need for perfection is as important with the specialists as it is for just about any position on the team. Loeffler is expected to make every snap with precision, Kluwe is expected to catch the ball on extra points and field goals without a hitch and Longwell is expected to put every kick through the uprights. Many times, games are decided by field goals, and having their jobs down to a science is a must.
"There are a lot of things that can go wrong on a field goal," Longwell said. "The snap can be bad. The holder can bobble the ball or not get it in position and the kicker can push the ball left or right. For a field goal to be good, everything has to be perfect – the snap, the hold and the kick. If one of them isn't just right, you don't make the field goal. That's why we work so much in getting our timing down with each other."
The specialists spend hours each week practicing field goals, often alone and seemingly ostracized from the rest of the team. While it may look like they aren't working hard, by the time most fans arrive for practice and start watching players, the lion's share of their work has already been completed. What may look like the easiest job on the team isn't always the case.
"Most people who see us during practice think we're doing nothing because, while the other players are using the field, we're usually on the sidelines," Loeffler said. "I can understand why people might think that we're just hanging around, but looks can be deceiving. The truth is that we got a lot of our work done before practice when the whole team starts. Normally they're using both fields during practice and they don't want us to get in the way."
When the Vikings return to the practice, it will look pretty similar to what it has been throughout camp to date – players sweating out two-a-day practices while the specialists watch on as interested observers. But, as they will tell you, there is a lot more to doing their jobs than just standing on the sidelines for 90 minutes watching their teammates.
"It may look like we're not doing all that much, but the expectation on us is to be perfect," Longwell said. "Every time the coaches send out the field goal unit or to kick an extra point, they expect us to make every one. That isn't always possible, but that's the expectation. There is pressure involved because every kick is important. We need to put points on the board and, trust me, if one of us isn't doing his job, he'll be replaced. There's no margin for error and we have to look at it that way. It might seem like we're not doing all that much, but we work every day to perfect our timing. People may not see it in practice, but everybody is watching on game day and expecting us to be perfect every time."