Loss of Lloyd has Carolina concerned

Rhys Lloyd will be battling for a roster spot with the Vikings, but his loss in Carolina is causing concern – for good reason. Lloyd has been one of the best at booming touchbacks and the Panthers one of the worst at covering kicks.

To hear the media types that cover the Carolina Panthers talk about it, you would think DeAngelo Williams came to the Vikings, not Rhys Lloyd.

It's the way-too-early preview season for NFL types and, almost to a person, a concern area for training camp with the Panthers is going to be the kicking position, where a battle will be waged with backup kicker Todd Carter to try to win a spot as Lloyd's replacement.

If Carter can kick deep enough, John Fox will give him a roster spot. If he can't, punter Jason Baker will handle kickoffs. Veteran kicker John Kasay doesn't seem in too much danger of losing his roster spot, because the Panthers have kept four specialists the last several years.

What made Lloyd worth a roster spot was his ability on kickoffs. The Panthers had a very shaky kick coverage team – if you call 31st out of 32 teams shaky. We do. If Lloyd didn't kick the ball deep enough for a touchback, the suspect Panthers coverage team was likely to get burned. Fortunately for them, over the last two years, nobody launched more kickoffs for touchbacks than Lloyd – who had 51 kickoffs for touchbacks over the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Ryan Longwell had 10.

The value that Lloyd could bring to the Vikings is that, with a team that appears to be very strong on both sides of the ball with veterans on offense and defense, the potential of losing a close game as the result of a special teams coverage gaffe on a team this close to being a Super Bowl contender could be the difference between winning a division title or earning home field advantage.

Two years ago, the Vikings were approaching all-time futility on kick coverage teams, allowing touchdowns right and left and sucking the momentum out of games on a consistent basis. The Vikings made signings with special teams in mind, as well as draft picks. They saw an area of the team that could be improved and made the moves necessary to get it done. Lloyd would seem to be in keeping with that mindset.

But there are still questions about whether Lloyd will win a roster spot on the veteran-laden Vikings team that returns all 22 starters from 2009 and has numerous veteran backups. Roster spots will be at a premium, so the decision comes down to whether Lloyd's booming kickoffs will help the team more than keeping an additional offensive lineman, linebacker or cornerback.

One thing is clear. The Panthers are going to have a competition during training camp to replace Lloyd and the unique void he has left in his wake. Whether the Vikings keep him or not will be a training camp storyline because the Vikings have never kept four specialists. If they do, it will be breaking new ground. But, if Lloyd can average almost two touchbacks a game kicking outdoors for the Panthers, what can accomplish in the Metrodome?

Apparently, it's enough to get the Carolina media more than a little concerned about the post-Lloyd Panthers.


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    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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