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Notes From Wednesday Afternoon Special Teams Practice

Posted by cjsiewert on August 5, 2010 – 6:55 am

Wednesday afternoon’s practice was kept to just about an hour as the special teams unit got in its 1st “special teams only” practice of the 2010 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. Kickoff return specialist Percy Harvin did not participate in the special teams practice as he continues to handle personal matters, but Darius Reynaud – who returned 30 punts for 308 yards in 2009 – found himself returning a number of punts and kickoffs.

Special teams was an area the Vikings addressed during the offseason as they acquired kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd. Lloyd possesses the ability to pin the ball deep in opponent’s territory and has proven this skill with a league-leading 30 touchbacks in 2008 and another 21 in 2009 to rank 6th in the NFL.

To complement Lloyd in the punting game, P Chris Kluwe has provided consistency in the Vikings special teams unit over the past 5 seasons. The 6-year veteran had the top punting average of his career at 37.8 yards in 2009, including 24 punts of 50+ yards. A key component to Kluwe’s drive to improve his punting abilities consists of his directional kicking.

“I know a lot of guys use the Aussie rules, end-over-end kick,” Kluwe mentioned of directional punting. “For them it’s easier to control and put it down there, but I’ve always felt more comfortable with just trying to put it down in the corner. I think it’s something that I’ve gotten pretty good at and will continue to try and improve.”

As mentioned, the special teams practice lasted only for about an hour, so there really wasn’t a whole lot of action but here are a few notes from Wednesday afternoon’s practice…

– The 1st half of practice consisted of both the punt and punt return teams with Asher Allen, Taye Biddle, Jaymar Johnson, Reynaud, Lito Sheppard and Marcus Sherels returning punts.

– Rookie CB Chris Cook showcased his speed as an outside gunner on the punt team by consistently being the 1st man to reach the punt returner.

– Kluwe provided his ability to punt the ball well with impressive hang-time and distance. Kluwe consistently punted the ball around the area of 45 yards.

– The 2nd half of practice involved the kick return team with Johnson, Reynaud and Ray Small returning kicks.


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Discussing Rhys Lloyd And Taking The Easy Way Out

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 22, 2010 – 7:50 am

It might be a slow news time in the NFL calendar, but that doesn’t keep Vikings fans from thinking about their favorite team. That’s one great thing about covering this team – there is rarely a truly slow time with nothing to talk about and there is never a shortage of fans with passion (and opinions) for the Vikings. In bold text below is an email I received from a reader and it’s one I wanted to post on the blog and respond to because it provides a great starting point for discussion.

Hey Mike – In an earlier 5-part series you covered players that you felt would have to be difference-makers in the upcoming season (Gaining the Extra Edge – Lito Sheppard, Bernard Berrian, Antoine Winfield, Ryan Longwell and Chad Greenway). As with some other readers, I felt you took the easy way out and did not truly address the unknowns. One in particular is our acquisition of Rhys Lloyd to be a kickoff specialist. This, in theory, will create more touchbacks (i.e. less returns and worse starting field position for opponents). Last year, Longwell had 98 kickoffs with only 5 TBs, in comparison to Lloyd who had 72 kickoffs and 21 TB’s! The Vikings offense has the potential to score every time we touch the ball and the last thing we need after a quick score or long drive is the defense to get pinned back and give up a quick score. Correct me if I am wrong, but during the 1998 season, one major advantage I remember was Mitch Berger kicking off and teams constantly taking a knee and starting at the 20-yardline. This can take a serious toll on opposing teams and it’s the reason I believe Lloyd should have been one of your difference-makers. What is your take and what have you seen of him lately?
– Emile A.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

This is a great email from Emile and it’s one I wanted to post and respond to on the blog. Even though Emile levied a slight criticism of our Gaining The Extra Edge series, I appreciate her (and all of your) opinion because the idea behind posting a series such as Gaining The Extra Edge is to promote discussion on the blog and keep all of us talking about Vikings football, even in the offseason.

First off I want to say that I didn’t take the easy way out with the Gaining The Extra Edge series by not addressing lesser-known players. The point of the series, as I stated when introducing the series, was to identify members of the “supporting cast” whose production (or lack of production) will significantly impact the Vikings 2010 season. With that as the premise for the series, it was hard to justify (in my opinion) including a guy such as Asher Allen or Tyrell Johnson in the series because, quite frankly, their level of production won’t be as significant as other supporting cast players, such as Berrian, Greenway or Winfield. If Allen or Johnson don’t play well, there are other players on the depth chart who can be called upon. If Greenway or Winfield don’t produce, I’m not sure how well the Vikings would be able to recover from that.

But, with all of that said, Emile’s point remains a solid one. Lloyd, I believe, will be an important factor in the Vikings season. His addition represents a change in philosophy for the Vikings because in order to have Lloyd on the active game day roster, the Vikings lose another player who likely would’ve played in multiple phases of the game. The trade off is less roster flexibility for a better chance at touchbacks/improved kick coverage.

I agree with Emile that the addition of Lloyd could be key to another successful Vikings season. He was impressive during some of the offseason and OTA workouts I saw, displaying a powerful leg and frequently pumping balls to and through the endzone. I’m looking forward to watching him play this preseason and potentially taking a roster spot as a kickoff specialist for the Vikings.

Here were some thoughts I had on the Lloyd acquisition back in early March right after the Vikings signed him.


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OTA #5 Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 24, 2010 – 3:17 pm

A few observations from Monday’s OTA…

– K Rhys Lloyd was one of several veterans who didn’t participate in last week’s OTAs but did participated on Monday. Lloyd was signed by the Vikings this offseason and will be the team’s kickoff specialist in 2010. This will allow K Ryan Longwell to focus exclusively on FGs and PATs. I watched Lloyd work today during the early part of practice and I was impressed with what I saw. He would take about a step and a half and boot the ball off a tee from the 35-yardline to the goal line. Lloyd’s leg strength is obvious and it’ll be interesting to see how his addition impacts the Vikings special teams unit.

– I spent some time during individual drills observing the RB group, which consisted of Ryan D’Imperio, Ian Johnson, James Johnson, Darius Reynaud and Albert Young. The particular drill I watched required the RBs – one at a time – to engage, lift up and shed a heavy blocking sled. The drill is designed to improve blocking technique. As you may or may not know, RBs coach Eric Bieniemy is one of the most vocal position coaches on the staff and he’s also known to let his players hear it if they make a mistake. On Monday the RB group went through 3 full cycles of that drill without coach Bieniemy stopping a player one time. That’s pretty impressive.

– The WR position is one of the most glamorous in football. When fans think of WRs, they think of silky smooth athletes and TDs and TD celebrations. But there’s just as much tedious practice work required of WRs as any other position on the field. And on Monday I watched WRs coach George Stewart work with his group on a drill that required the WRs to run a quick comeback route, catch the ball and then turn up field. Obviously catching the ball is paramount in a WR drill, but coach Stewart was focusing intensely on small details, such as heel placement on the pivot, arm action on the turn and tucking the ball away after securing it. Coach Stewart has been in the league for 22 years now and he’s coached great receivers such as Terrell Owens, Jerry Rice and Roddy White, so it’s no surprise he’s concerned with the details.

– WR Taye Biddle and QB Sage Rosenfels hooked up for the play of the day during offense vs. defense work. Biddle ran a go route down the right sideline and Rosenfels’ pass arched over a pair of defenders and into the hands of Biddle for what would’ve been a TD. The degree of difficulty was high because both players were fighting a strong breeze on the play.


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Monday Morning Mailbag Extra Edition

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 10, 2010 – 9:44 am

This week’s Monday Morning Mailbag is posted on the home page, but there were a couple of emails that came in over the week that I’d like to expand on with a blog entry. Be sure to submit your questions/comments for next week’s Monday Morning Mailbag by sending an email to me at wobschallm@vikings.nfl.net. Remember to submit your name and town with the comment/question.

On to the extra emails…

“Hey Mike, do you know if Coach Childress is planning to have a tougher training camp than in recent years? I think it would benefit this team. Do you know why the Vikings have a tough time closing out games? Not all, but some. It seems like teams that they are supposed to finish off, they let them back in the game. Do you think the coach is to blame for this? I know we won’t make it far in the playoffs if we continue this trend. Thanks for your time answering questions and keep up the good work.” — Henry

Henry brings up a valid point in that how a team practices throughout the year – and in training camp – can impact the team’s ability to perform in certain situations, such as late-season games or the 2nd half of games. As for Childress and his plans for this year’s training camp, I don’t have much insight into what his designs are for 2010. Perhaps he’ll be asked to elaborate on that as we get closer to training camp, but my guess is that he won’t change much from what was done last year.

As for the Vikings closing out games, I must say that the evidence contradicts Henry’s assertion that the Vikings had trouble finishing off teams in 2009. A couple of factors actually show the Vikings were good at closing out games. Let’s take a closer look at both of them…

1) The Vikings outscored opponents 111-56 in the 3rd quarter and 134-120 in the 4th quarter. This comes out to the Vikings outscoring opponents 245-176 in the 2nd half. Also consider the Vikings had 4 regular season losses on the year and that in 3 of those 4 losses they trailed at halftime, meaning the losses weren’t a result of losing a lead in the 2nd half.

2) Let’s take a look at some individual games to examine how the Vikings performed in the 2nd half and 4th quarter. Against Cleveland in Week 1 they scored 24 of the last 31 points and at Detroit in Week 2 they outscored the Lions 10-3 in the 4th quarter. At St. Louis they scored 21 of the final 28 points and then at Green Bay they scored 14 of the last 21 points in the 4th quarter. At Chicago late in the season they trailed 16-0 at halftime and then scored 17 of the final 24 points in the regulation to push the game to overtime. I will acknowledge some bad performances in the 2nd half, such as being outscored by 21 points in the 4th quarter at Carolina, being outscored 21-13 by Baltimore in the 4th quarter in Week 6 and then losing the 4th quarter 14-7 at Pittsburgh in the 1st loss of the year. But the Carolina game was a 26-7 loss, the Baltimore game was eventually a win and the Steelers pair of TDs in the 4th quarter were both defensive TDs that don’t serve as an indictment against the Vikings defense.

Ultimately, I can’t agree that the Vikings had a hard time finishing teams off in 2009. In fact, I’d say that finishing games was a strength of the 2009 team.

Hey Mike, do you know K Rhys Lloyd’s stats over the last 2 years as far as  FG% and longest FG made? Also, will he be the only K trying out for the Vikings? Thanks, Pat the Viking

Lloyd doesn’t have much of a history kicking FGs in the NFL. In fact, dating back to 2007, he has not attempted a regular or postseason FG during his career. He’s been a kickoff specialist during his time in the NFL and he’s been very good in that role. In the 2007 preseason for Carolina, however, Lloyd did attempt 3 FGs and he made all 3 of them, including an impressive 55-yard try at Atlanta.

Lloyd’s past efforts on FGs are basically irrelevant for the Vikings because he’ll be a kickoff specialist here while Ryan Longwell will hold down the FG and PAT duties. Should Longwell become unable to fulfill his duties, though, the Vikings would surely consider Lloyd as a candidate to replace the ever-reliable Longwell.

I don’t anticipate the Vikings will have any more Ks in camp outside of Lloyd and Longwell.

Also, for the record, I’m on-board with the Vikings desire to experiment with a kickoff specialist. After doing some offseason studies on the matter, it has the potential to be a solid weapon to have, as the Cowboys and Saints proved last year against the Vikings in the playoffs.


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More On The Lloyd Signing

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 9, 2010 – 8:41 am

Although it doesn’t carry the same high-profile nature of a signing such as DE Julius Peppers or S Antrel Rolle, the Vikings soon-to-be official acquisition of kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd is no less important.

The Vikings, of any team, surely realize the impact of the kickoff and kickoff return game. During the 2009 season, Percy Harvin averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff return and there were a number of times when a big return from the rookie sparked the offense and turned momentum around. Additionally, there were a number of times when the Vikings gave up a big return – at Chicago in Week 16 and at New Orleans in the NFC title game – that stole momentum.

While in general the Vikings special teams play improved in 2009 from 2008, I expect that the signing of Lloyd will yield even better results for the Vikings in 2010. Specifically, Lloyd will register more touchbacks (TBs) than Ryan Longwell. During the 2009 season, Longwell had 5 TBs while Lloyd tallied 21. For his career, Lloyd registers TBs on 33.3% of his kickoffs (51 out of 153), which is an excellent rate and one that will make life easier for the Vikings kickoff coverage team and defense.

To illustrate the importance of forcing opponents to start at or inside their own 20-yardline, consider this: During the 2009 season, Vikings opponents scored on 28.1% of their drives (53 out of 188). But when Vikings opponents began drives inside the 20-yardline, they scored just 18.2% of the time (8 out of 44).

Lloyd has been efficient at registering TBs during his career and he’s been spectacular when kicking indoors. During the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Lloyd tallied 15 TBs on 34 kickoffs (44.1%) while playing indoors. This is a good trend for the Vikings considering they will play 10 of their 16 regular season games indoors next year.

The extra strength Lloyd provides on kickoffs will also come in handy for the Vikings 6 outdoor games in 2010. Depending on what time of year the games are played, contests in Chicago, Green Bay, New England, New York (Jets), Philadelphia and Washington can often times feature inclement weather that makes it hard on the kickoff team. With Lloyd on the roster, though, the effect won’t be felt as much by the Vikings kick coverage team.

So the addition of Lloyd won’t necessarily result in more sacks or INTs, and it doesn’t help the Vikings replace Chester Taylor, but it does give the team another weapon that will ultimately result in worse field position for the opponent. Longwell will now be able to focus solely on FGs and PATs while Lloyd will concentrate on booting TBs.


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Report: K Lloyd Signs With Vikings

Posted by cjsiewert on March 9, 2010 – 7:19 am

According to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune, kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd and the Vikings agreed to a 2-year contract Monday night.

After passing on making a visit with the New York Giants on Tuesday, the former Gopher and Apple Valley, MN native became the first free-agent signed by the Vikings this offseason.  The Panthers did not tender him an offer as a restricted free agent (RFA), allowing him to test the market.

The 4-year veteran spent his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens and the past 3 seasons with the Carolina Panthers.  Lloyd played in all 32 of the Panthers regular season games over the past 2 seasons compiling a total of 51 touchbacks in 160 kickoffs.  It is assumed that the Vikings will rely on Lloyd to handle kickoffs with 14-year veteran Ryan Longwell specializing in field goals and extra points.

Lloyd’s agent, Frank Murtha, expressed the kicker’s excitement about the organization while acknowledging his new role as the Vikings’ kickoff specialist.

“The organization made it clear that they were committed to carrying a kickoff specialist,” Murtha told Zulgad. “I think that was made clear to Rhys and to me.  Coach Childress and his staff and the organization were committed to that.  They wanted to have the advantage that they had seen around the league either with the teams that have carried an extra guy or those that have someone in the organization whose kickoffs were beyond the norm.  Rhys is capable of putting the ball in the end zone all of the time.”


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