Kicker competition? Not so fast

When the Vikings signed Taylor Melhaff on Dec. 30, there was concern from Ryan Longwell's camp. New special teams coordinator Brian Murphy cautioned about reading too much into the situation.

After four years in purple, Ryan Longwell is already considered one of the better kickers in franchise history, but that hasn't kept him from showing concern over the team signing Taylor Mehlhaff at the end of December.

It probably didn't help ease those concerns when Brian Murphy was named the special teams coordinator less than a month later, after Paul Ferraro left to become a defensive coach with the St. Louis Rams. Murphy was a coach at the University of Wisconsin when Taylor Mehlhaff was kicking there.

But, Murphy cautioned in an interview with Viking Update shortly after being promoted to the special teams coordinator, there shouldn't be too much made of the Mehlhaff signing.

"We've always brought a guy in in the past here and that was a guy we felt we could bring in. I would caution anyone on saying that there's anything more to it than that," Murphy said. "Obviously, starting with Ryan, you can't argue with Ryan Longwell. He's coming off of just about the two most productive years of his career and we're heading into year 13. No one can dispute that.

"I think right now, Taylor Mehlhaff is a talented, young player, but Ryan's résumé stands on its own. I have nothing but tremendous respect for Ryan Longwell and I'm certainly glad that I'm going to have the opportunity to coach him."

That said, Murphy said he was aware of Longwell's concerns and planned on having an extensive dialogue with him to ease his mind.

"I didn't have a long conversation with him about it. I will in the near future. We're going to take some time to sit down and talk. I haven't stuck my head in the sand. I'm aware of the outward appearance of it, but I have tremendous respect for Ryan Longwell and his ability and I think his value to this team is unquestioned," Murphy said.

Longwell's 127 points in 2008 were the most by a Vikings kicker since Gary Anderson in 1998, and it was the fourth-best single-season scoring total of his 12-year career. He also had three game-winning field goals last year and was 6-for-6 from 50 yards or beyond.

While it's hard to argue Longwell's success with the Vikings, especially in the last two seasons, one line of thinking is the Vikings might consider keeping a younger kicker to handle kickoffs while Longwell is busy hitting most of his field goal attempts.

As with any NFL team, Vikings coaches have always cited the limited space on a 53-man roster and hesitations about using an spot simply for a kickoff specialist.

"You hit it on the head. That's a roster decision and that's way down the road right now. My respect for Ryan is tremendous and I do have an appreciation for Taylor," Murphy said.

While kicker and punter paled as special teams concerns for the Vikings compared to their coverage units in 2008, Murphy was also asked if punter Chris Kluwe needs to get more hang time on his punts to avoid having one of the league's best gross punting averages (fourth at 47.6) but one of the worst net punting averages last year.

"There are things where it's a factor here, it's not a factor there. It's the big picture with that. I think Chris Kluwe can certainly produce. I'm fortunate that I'm taking over a position – if you think about it throughout the league with the chance and the turnover, not only season to season but week to week with kickers and punters in this league, it became almost a revolving door in some cities where they're bringing in a kicker and a punter almost every week – I'm tremendously blessed to have the guys that I have right now," Murphy said. "I equate it to baseball, where if you've got strong pitching, you've got a chance to be a strong team. Can we get better at some areas? Absolutely, and I don't think either one of those guys would argue that. But I think overall we're pretty fortunate to have the guys that we have right now being a part of this team."

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