Kickers in competition?

The Vikings have one of the most accurate field goal kickers and signed what is believed to be a kickoff specialist. But they are apparently going to be competing for both jobs, their special teams coordinator said.

The lines of responsibility seem clear. Ryan Longwell, one of the most consistent field goal kickers in the NFL in recent years, should be able to hold down his spot. Rhys Lloyd, who led the league in touchbacks in 2008 with the Carolina Panthers, is likely to win a job as a kickoff specialist.

But special teams coordinator Brian Murphy said both kickers will compete for both jobs as they head to training camp.

"We are going to see between now and the end of preseason," Murphy said when asked about Lloyd's ability to kick field goals. "Just to kind of put that whole kicker situation to rest, both of them are here to compete. And really, just like every other position, between now and the end of preseason, you want to find out what guys are capable of doing. Every year stands on its own merit. We're going to start off fresh there and we're going to let those guys compete and see exactly what we can expect out of each of them.

"I'm not going to start off with any preconceived notion. We're just going to let those guys compete, carve out their role. But right now, both have been instructed that field goals and kickoffs, it's going to be the total package, what you can bring to the table. Then we'll make decisions based upon the roster from there. But both those guys are going to both kick field goals. They'll take an equal amount of field goals, take an equal amount of kickoffs. We'll see where we stand from there."

Each of the kickers' strengths seem clearly denoted by their recent history.

Lloyd had an NFL-best 30 touchbacks in 2008 and tied for sixth in the league last year with 21 – making it 51 touchbacks on 160 kickoffs over the last two years. He hasn't attempted a regular-season field goal in his three years in the league.

Longwell ranked second in the league among kickers with more than five field goal attempts by hitting 93 percent of his tries last year. He has only 11 touchbacks on 182 kickoffs over the last two seasons.

But Murphy said Longwell's ability to kick directionally helped the Vikings' kickoff coverage units.

"I thought he did well. A lot was made about the directional kicking. It was something we needed from a coverage standpoint, to move the ball around in spots when we called for it," Murphy said. "If you think back a year before, we hit the ball in predictable spots. Ryan's capable of doing it. That's the other thing, too, it's not what I feel like dialing up, but you've got to be able to perform those kicks. Ryan's got those shots in his bag. To have a guy of that caliber, to line up and kick the ball in one spot for an entire season doesn't make any sense. So we wanted to use all the clubs in his bag and let it hang out, so that's what we did. He put the ball where we wanted to put it last year."

It might stand to reason, though, that if Lloyd is handling kickoffs this year the Vikings would simply try to kick it deep and go for the touchback, something he was successful at nearly one-third of the time. However, Murphy said there is more to it than that.

"You want to be able to move the ball around the field. People are going to bring the ball out, especially if you've got a good returner, people are going to bring the ball out of the end zone, regardless if it's halfway up the lettering in the end zone or not," he said. "So you've got to be able to keep people on their toes. People are too good to stand there and hit the ball in one spot. So we're just going to move the ball around, make people prepare to return the ball all over the field."

Even so, it seem to reason that Lloyd would be the kickoff man and Longwell the field goal kicker when the season opens Sept. 9 in New Orleans, but that apparently hasn't been decided yet either.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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