As the Vikings draw closer to the massive cut-down of 22 players between now and Saturday, there are a dozen or more players that have earned the tag of "Bubble Boys." Front and center on that list is kicker Rhys Lloyd.
For those unfamiliar with the term, Bubble Boys are those players who are on the bubble of making the final roster. There are probably 40-45 players who have already won their spots on the roster and another dozen or so that have little to no shot of making the 53-man roster. That leaves about 15-20 Bubble Boys – half of which will make the team and half of which that won't.
Heading into training camp, it seemed as though Lloyd had a spot on the roster all but locked up. He was signed as a free agent after spending the last two years with Carolina being among the league leaders both years in touchbacks as a kickoff specialist behind John Kasay. The former University of Minnesota kicker seemed like a natural fit with the Vikings, having played four years in the Metrodome and being familiar with the surroundings.
The Vikings' interest in Lloyd was borne out of their playoff run last year, where Dallas and New Orleans were able to keep Percy Harvin and the potent Vikings return game in check. David Buehler of Dallas had just two kickoffs in the game and neither one was returned. Thomas Morstead of the Saints had three touchbacks on kickoffs.
For a team that has never used a kickoff specialist – the only non-kicker to handle kickoffs was punter Mitch Berger – the Vikings had high expectations of Lloyd. Perhaps too high of expectations.
"The expectation is (the kicks will go) nine or 10 (yards) deep (into the end zone) every time," Lloyd said. "That's not a reality. It's just trying to find that happy medium of goal line or better with good hang time. If you cancel one of those out and go for distance, it's going to go deeper. If you go for the hang time, it gives us a better opportunity to make a tackle inside the 20-yard line. Either way, it works out pretty good. If I can do my job and the other 10 do theirs, then it's kind of a no-brainer."
Finding a middle ground between distance and hang time hasn't been easy. Lloyd felt so bad about his performance last week against the Seahawksthat he posted a public apology on his Twitter account, taking the blame for his kicks – none of which have been for touchbacks.
"I had a good warmup, but, for some reason, in the game I wasn't hitting the ball very well and the expectations for me as a kicker – not necessarily from the team's standpoint, but mine – are a lot higher than the way I performed," Lloyd said. "I obviously wasn't happy after the game and felt I owed an apology whether I needed to or not."
Vikings coach Brad Childress clearly wasn't happy with Lloyd's performance either, saying he had "two or three mis-hits in four or five tries."
"That would be the intent is that you would want touchbacks to occur," Childress said Monday. "We had 110 kickoffs last year; it's the most violent play in football. Obviously, if two-thirds of the time you can be able to not have to see a return, that would be the objective of that. It's got to be a consistent thing.
Lloyd said he has since corrected the problem. After watching game film, he realized that he was coming at the ball too quickly in order to strike the ball as hard as possible. An avid golfer (a 1-handicap), Lloyd used a links analogy to explain his problem with consistently booming kickoffs.
"It's kind of like a golf swing," Lloyd said. "If you take it back right away to hit the ball, (your swing) is only going to get quicker. That is where I was kind of getting lost."
With the Vikings roster needing to be trimmed down to 53 by 5 p.m. Central Saturday, Lloyd is firmly on the bubble. If the Vikings feel they need to keep a fourth quarterback or have a young player they don't want to potentially expose to being claimed off waivers before they can slide him onto the practice squad (see Tyler Thigpen), it could be Lloyd who pays the ultimate price.
Like many of 30 or so players that find themselves in a similar position heading into the weekend, they will end up waiting by their phones hoping they don't get a call with a Winter Park exchange on the other end. But, Lloyd was quick to point out that it isn't his call whether he stays or goes and his only regret is that he hasn't done more to make the decision an easier one for the coaching staff simply to reserve a spot on the 53-man roster for him.
"That's not my job," Lloyd said. "My job is to go out there, kick the ball off and kick it well. In the first or second game I didn't really have an opportunity, and in the last game I was pretty 50/50. From my standpoint, it was unacceptable and I'll correct it. At the end of the day, it's a coach's decision. My job is to do what I'm supposed to do and, if I do my job as I'm supposed to do, and, if I do that, I don't think there's any question (that I'll make the 53-man roster)."
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.
Lloyd says kickoff issues are correctable
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